On Feb. 3, Southern students joined President David Smith, other administrators and University Health Center (UHC) personnel in a virtual town hall meeting. According to the email invitation, the purpose of the meeting was to provide an open platform for students to ask questions about “Southern’s prospects of remaining on campus this semester, clarification on the one-week timeline, our campus contingency plan, COVID-19 accountability, class attendance expectations, enrichment credits and more.”
After the town hall, the Accent reached out to administrators and the UHC for further information and clarification on areas that piqued students’ interests. Senior Vice President for Academic Administration Bob Young, Vice President for Advancement Carolyn Hamilton and UHC nurse practitioner Dorinda Harriss consulted together to provide answers to the following questions.
- At what point will the quarantine capacity percentage start to raise eyebrows and call for an evaluation of the next steps?
At 50% capacity, we certainly start to look more at prevention, communication, additional capacity, etc. Our goal continues to be prevention and vigilance. At the same time, of course, we do have contingency plans that are ever-evolving as the situation changes. At 80% capacity, we then evaluate available space for quarantine. If we were to reach 90% in the men’s or women’s area, we then start to implement more contingency plans. Prevention still remains the first line of defense. Isolation tends not to require as much space as quarantine.
- President Smith said he is unsure of the actual average, but said that there’s probably at least five to eight students put in quarantine per every positive student COVID-19 case. What is the actual average of quarantined students per positive case?
Regarding average exposure numbers, we don’t have that calculation currently. Because the number can vary so greatly, a straight average isn’t necessarily a meaningful number anyway.
- Is there any class (FR, SO, JR or SR) in particular that is contributing significantly to the quarantine/COVID-19 case numbers?
Administration’s reports do not break down the numbers by class standing. We have no reason to believe that this is a class-standing matter. I can say that no particular group is to blame. This is an individual matter. We have been told by the University Health Center that the primary mode of transmission on campus is between friends within friend groups. This means that friend groups need to be careful to follow university guidance to avoid exposure and potential illness.
- President Smith mentioned that quarantine numbers are released to certain “entities” and said administrators have and possibly will consider again making it public to everyone. But there’s hesitance as the numbers can be misleading. How can quarantine numbers be misleading to parents and students?
Quarantine numbers require interpretation and understanding of our contingency plans to get the whole picture. The quarantine number is constantly changing and complicated because it includes both longer-term cases that are in quarantine for exposure and shorter term for those waiting on test results — that may only be for a day or two. What you see is, at any given time, a snapshot, and it could go up or down shortly after posting the number. We are exploring how best to share this information meaningfully on the website.
- Does the fact that we’re testing more than compared to last semester have anything to do with the rise in active COVID-19 numbers?
Incentivized testing certainly leads to catching more cases at the start of the semester. This initially increased our numbers. Current numbers are not from the focused testing program.
- According to the meeting, we are at a “tipping-point” with quarantine numbers and COVID-19 cases. Is there an infectious rate goal we are trying to stay below?
No, there is not one number to which we can readily point which causes a reaction in our plans. As we work to keep our campus healthy, the capacity in our residential space to accommodate quarantine and isolation students on campus is certainly a consideration, as is our staffing capacity to manage the care for those students. We will take corrective action as needed because we only have one overall plan, and that is to complete this semester successfully and on campus.
Administration encourages students to refrain from congregating in enclosed spaces such as during longer car rides. However, if students are riding together, they should be mindful of wearing masks, keeping the car ride short and opening the windows. Additionally, those who have questions can visit southern.edu/coronavirus and the Student FAQ page for more information.
“Our goal is to focus on cooperation, vigilance and working together — making individual choices for the good of our community,” Hamilton said. “If we continue to do that, we will be in good shape. We all have the power to keep our learning and living community moving forward to a successful end of semester, and that is what leadership believes will happen.”