As COVID-19 cases surge across campus, the University has implemented a “Slow the Spread” directive in hopes of decreasing the daily positivity rate. As of Feb. 15, the University stands at 770 cumulated cases since Jan. 19, with 623 of them being on-campus residents. The University has seen as many as 76 positive cases in one day. In contrast, the highest one-day positivity rate last semester was 27. So far this semester, there have been 12 days with higher confirmed cases. In addition, the isolation/quarantining capacity has dipped as low as 45% availability, and this comes after acquiring the DoubleTree hotel in King of Prussia for additional bed space.
The combined issues that all of these numbers bring required action to be taken by the University. On Jan. 31, students received a “We Must Act” email from Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., encouraging students to uphold the Caritas Commitment. Although there were no changes made in this email, it reminded students that if cases stay high, it will become unsustainable for the University to stay open. But, this email did not do much to slow the cases down, and the next day there were 62 cases.
On Feb. 5, students received a more informative “Stop the Spread” email from University President Rev. Peter M. Donahue, O.S.A., Ph.D. This email included plans for a two-week directive to stop the spread of COVID-19 cases. While in-person classes still continue during this time, there are some other measures that were put in place to limit everyone’s exposure. This includes the change in Wildcard accessibility so that students can only swipe into the residence hall they live in, meaning that all off-campus students are barred from entering residence halls during this time.
Students are also only allowed to go off campus for emergency or essential purposes. There is a reporting system that students can refer to if they want to lodge a complaint against their peers for their off campus presence during this time. The capacity for dorm rooms has decreased as well, and in standard double rooms, students can only have up to three people in them at a time. Students can get in trouble with the University if they are found not upholding any of these new regulations, and some students have noticed more surveillance in the days after the email was sent. Some noticed staff patrolling the halls of the Quad, including Assistant Dean of Students Nicholas Tumolo.
There will also now be a weekly update, which will include an in-depth overview of the COVID-19 dashboard, recent updates from campus and an easier method for asking questions. During the surge in cases, some community members complained about the lack of communication between the administration and students, faculty and staff. These updates will hopefully provide an easier way to be in contact with the University.
Since the Feb. 5 email, there have been as high as 46 new cases in one day. We will not truly know if the two week directive worked until the end of the two weeks, but if cases remain high, many fear what comes next for an in-person, on-campus spring semester. For now, we just have to wait and see.