With COVID-19 test results back from more than 80% of the 287 residents in USU’s quarantined dorms, four students are known so far to have the virus, but a university spokesperson said Friday no more positive results are expected from the “few dozen” remaining students.
This conflicts with a view expressed Thursday by a USU researcher involved in the wastewater testing program that prompted the quarantine. Biological engineering professor Keith Roper said he expected more positive cases to emerge because positive tests are often delayed due to rigorous confirmation protocols.
In response to this week’s test results, 38 of the 52 living suites in the four affected residence halls have been released from quarantine. None of the four students who tested positive lived in the same suite, and all have been moved into other areas to self-isolate.
“Suitemates of these students will continue to quarantine and may be tested in the next week so that those who test negative can get back to their regular lives and in-person classes,” said Amanda DeRito, USU director of crisis communications. “Eleven students chose to not get tested and instead opted for a full 14-day quarantine.”
Roper said he was concerned the holdouts would skew data and prevent experts from gaining a full picture of the dorm situation. “There’s going to be some uncertainty,” he told The Herald Journal on Thursday.
Asked if he thought the numbers released at that point (four positives with 80% reporting) seemed low compared to the wastewater data that led to the quarantine, Roper responded: “At this point, the investigation makes complete sense to me. The fact that 80% of those tests that have come back with four cases reported is pretty consistent with what the expectation is at this point in time.”
The quarantines were announced on Sunday after testing of wastewater from the dormitories indicated increased levels of the virus that causes COVID-19. Testing sewage for RNA “markers” of the coronavirus was started this spring by the Utah Division of Water Quality at selected sites around the state, then expanded statewide. Roper collaborated with DWQ in the initial program and spearheaded implementation of testing at USU at the start of the fall semester.
The four dormitory cases come in addition to 48 other active coronavirus cases in USU’s statewide population: Six on-campus, 38 off-campus, three on staff and one among faculty members.
The university is gleaning its virus numbers from an online questionnaire that infected and tested students have been asked to fill out.
“We encourage students to continue reporting through the university’s COVID questionnaire,” said USU Spokesperson Emilie Wheeler. “Any student who believes they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive should also fill out the questionnaire. We now have rapid testing available, but students must be in the system to get it.”
USU has its own contact-tracing teams, and they have been busy at work on all the cases reported through the questionnaire. “We appreciate how well the students have cooperated and done their part to prevent the spread of the virus on USU’s campus,” Wheeler said.
None of the four dorm residents who tested positive showed symptoms of COVID-19, which underscores the need for masks and other social-distancing precautions, DeRito said.