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COVID-19 dashboards track increases at Virginia universities

By Noah Fleischman

Capital News Service

RICHMOND

As more universities open, they’re collecting and releasing COVID-19 data and grappling with contingency plans for those who contract the disease.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville released its first set of COVID-19 testing data on Wednesday. There have been 58 total positive cases at the university since Aug. 17, including 31 students. The university’s quarantine rooms are currently 5% occupied and the isolation rooms are not occupied.

“Students living off-Grounds will be expected to quarantine or isolate at their off-Grounds housing,” the university wrote in its public health plan. “Students who can safely travel home to isolate or quarantine will be encouraged to do so.”

The university is exploring monitoring COVID-19 among the student population by testing wastewater from certain buildings and is considering point prevalence surveys, which test every person in a certain area or building regardless of symptoms.

Virginia also has an online portal for students and those in the surrounding community to report infractions of the university’s coronavirus policies.

James Madison University in Harrisonburg debuted its COVID-19 dashboard Tuesday, which showed 125 positive cases mostly tied to students. Fifteen JMU students on campus tested positive since July 1 and 107 self-reported their positive test results since Aug. 17. Three employees also self-reported positive results since then. The university has tested almost 820 students since July 1. Eleven students that live off-campus and are affiliated with the same organization tested positive, JMU said Wednesday.

“If [students] need to isolate or need to quarantine, we are asking that they do so at home, where they can be supported by family or friends if that’s possible,” said Caitlyn Read, JMU spokesperson.

JMU can provide students that cannot return home to quarantine or isolate with a space to do so, Read said. The university health center staff checks on the students daily, provides them with food and makes sure they have access to coursework, Read said.

As of Thursday, JMU had 14 beds occupied for students in isolation or quarantine out of 143 available beds.

Various factors will determine if JMU goes to a virtual format for all classes, including the number of cases on campus and isolation and quarantine space available on campus, Read said. She also said the amount of personal protective equipment available for health workers on campus and the COVID-19 positivity rate in Harrisonburg will be considered.

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond added prevalence testing data to its COVID-19 dashboard, logging 70 tests with one positive COVID-19 result as of Thursday, for a 1.4% positivity rate. VCU’s prevalence testing program tests asymptomatic people within the university, including employees and about 5% of students that live on campus and about 2% of students that do not.

VCU had 110 active cases on campus as of Thursday — 98 students and a dozen employees. The university reported a cluster of 44 cases within the athletic department, forcing it to open an isolation space at the former Honors college dorm. VCU reported 167 students are in on-campus quarantine or isolation. The cases have increased 205% since the dashboard launched a week ago with 36 total cases.

On Thursday, a Grainger vending machine appeared on VCU’s campus, stocked with face masks and hand sanitizer.

Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech reported 16 more COVID-19 cases on campus on Aug. 23, an increase from five cases the week before. The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg has tested almost 4,600 students and 607 employees. Fifteen students and less than 10 employees tested positive prior to arriving on campus on Aug. 19. Fairfax-based George Mason University conducted almost 2,950 tests since Aug. 2. Eight tests were positive since then, including six students and two employees.

Some colleges are currently fully online. Virginia State University in Petersburg announced this week that all classes will be conducted remotely for the fall semester due to COVID-19 concerns. The university won’t have residential students on campus, VSU President Makola M. Abdullah said in a video posted on the university’s Facebook page.

On Tuesday, the University of Lynchburg announced classes will remain virtual until Sept. 2 due to positive COVID-19 cases after shifting to remote learning on Aug. 20. The university has 44 positive cases as of Thursday — 31 on campus and 13 off campus.