Over the last two weeks, there has been a marked increase in incidences of COVID-19 among students at the Huntington campus. Although this jump in cases was not entirely unexpected given the infection rates in the surrounding community, university officials have been closely watching the situation.
As indicated in the Oct. 5 notice to the Marshall community, one of the university’s responses to a rising positivity rate is to increase testing and examine other appropriate actions.
Consequently, the university has begun taking the following measures:
- Increasing surveillance by testing 140 additional students each week, beginning tomorrow and continuing through the remainder of the semester. This will raise the minimum number of tests per week from 720 to 860;
- Working with sororities and fraternities to further emphasize the importance of following all university and public health guideline, and to underscore Marshall’s zero tolerance policy for non-compliance. All students are subject to the rules of the student judicial system and Board of Governors Policy No. SA-1, Student Rights and Responsibilities;
- Enhancing student-athlete protocols and enforcement measures. Athletic Department leadership is keenly attuned to the need to correct the isolated instances of non-compliance;
- Reducing the occupancy of the student section at football games, increasing the spacing between students, disabling the 901 numbers of quarantined/isolated students to ensure they do not gain admittance, and increasing enforcement efforts; and
- Updating plans for the 50th anniversary Memorial Fountain Ceremony (which is held outside) with additional safety precautions, including limiting who can attend in person.
Marshall’s strict contact tracing protocols show that this recent increase in cases is not random or uncontrolled, and there is no indication the virus is prevalent in the campus community at large or that it is being spread via instructional contacts (i.e., classrooms and laboratories, residence halls, offices, library, etc.).
In fact, only a couple of the latest cases have been identified through Marshall’s surveillance testing program. (In other words, primary contacts were identified and tested specifically, rather than identified through random testing.)
Furthermore, the vast majority of these cases have been found among three groups—athletic teams, fraternities and sororities, and students who have attended gatherings/football games without observing the precautions of mask wearing and social distancing. These cases (~90% of the new cases this week) were identified through targeted testing of potential primary contacts who had already been asked to quarantine until test results were returned.
All identified primary contacts of these cases were quarantined as a result of contact tracing, and instructors have been notified if a student in one of their face-to-face classes has tested positive.
The fact that these recent cases are coming from within the university’s system for identifying contacts of people who have already tested positive is a direct reflection on the efficiency of the protocols and the diligent work of Marshall’s nine contact tracers. By proactively removing those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 from the general population until it can be determined if they are infected, the university has been able to keep the virus in check.
The university’s number of cases may well continue to rise in the coming days as tracing and testing of these exposures continues.
University officials continue to monitor the situation both at the university and in the community with the assistance and guidance of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, Marshall Health and Mountain Health Network. Additional actions will be taken if necessary.
For details about the university’s response to the pandemic, including the COVID-19 dashboard and information about data monitoring for decision making, visit the university’s coronavirus website.
Please continue to monitor your Marshall e-mail account for additional information and updates.