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Message from the President Regarding Thanksgiving Safety and COVID-19 Dashboard

Dear Members of the University Community,

News of the rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally and regionally, coupled with WNE’s reporting of test-positive cases in the past week, may be concerning.

We want to keep our community as safe and healthy as possible. The objective of today’s communication is to clarify our reporting practice and to remind the University community to stay hyper-vigilant—in not only wearing masks at all times, but also avoiding group gatherings and the tendency to congregate, such as in groups sitting around tables talking, and washing and sanitizing hands frequently. Please remain engaged with Health Services by getting tested if you feel sick and reporting any COVID-19 related symptoms (not just positive tests) as stated in employee and student handbooks.

The University has been vigilant about frequent testing. Our COVID-19 dashboard numbers are fluid and are updated twice a week. As of this week, we have added additional information and features to the data on the COVID-19 dashboard that you have been receiving since August. You will first notice an updated executive summary dashboard containing all the information you have been getting plus new information. It is important to understand that our “test given” and “negative results” under the “cumulative data” section represent data coming from our Health Services department. Our “positive cases” number represents positive cases coming from both Health Services and those that are receiving tests from facilities off campus. While you are seeing a current positivity rate of .66% on our dashboard, this figure represents positive cases coming from off campus but not negative cases coming from off campus, as these are not reported to us.

To make things clearer, we have added a new chart at the bottom of the dashboard, “Weekly Positive Cases by Population” to show whether our current positive cases are among our resident and commuter students or faculty/staff. This is important information to contextualize the spread of the virus among both the on and off campus population and by distinct population. There no known clusters of cases affecting our community and over the past three weeks we have tested over 900 individuals through our surveillance testing program at Health Services with zero positive cases. This, coupled with the fact that only three isolation beds on campus are in use at present, suggests that we are not in jeopardy of our 72-bed capacity being overwhelmed in the immediate future.

The final update we made to our COVID-19 dashboard is to allow users to sort the data by different variables and export it to other sources as they see fit.  As has been our commitment from the onset, we will continue to make data-informed decisions and improve upon the information we are able to provide in the quickest and most transparent manner possible.

Why have COVID-19 cases risen so quickly in the region and nation-wide?  Simply, the virus is acting as viruses do:  spreading from host to host, in this case, person to person.  As the prevalence of infections in a community goes up, and people spend more time with one another, exposures can go up. It is a matter of math and probability.

Over the next week and a day, we ask that everyone keep their guard up, resist temptation to socialize in close quarters with those outside of their living unit, and continue to:

  • Mask up at all times
  • Create space between you and others
  • Practice correct hygiene with frequent hand-washing and sanitizing
  • Not socialize in close quarters with those outside of your living unit
  • Not delay care should you exhibit symptoms
  • Get tested if you feel sick
  • Remain engaged with Health Services and your doctor

We know that these public health measures work to mitigate community spread on campus. Collectively all of these actions will help us.  Small acts translate into large results and protect our community.

Lowering Risks of the Thanksgiving Holiday Break

Over the next week and a day, your hyper vigilance and extreme attention to these safety practices will also help prepare us as safely as possible for the Thanksgiving holiday departures with many returning home to their families. 

We echo the advice of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “When college students come home, they’ve really got to be careful.”  We owe it to our students’ families to minimize the possibility that asymptomatic individuals can unknowingly transmit the virus to others.  

If you are returning home for Thanksgiving, we leave you with some helpful tips and precautions to lower risk of asymptomatic spread and stay safe:

  • We highly encourage students to be tested before going home
  • Take steps to mitigate risk during travel
  • Wear masks at least a few days after arriving

Every precaution you take lowers risk and can add up to some amount of risk reduction. Remember, small acts translate into large results and protect our community and your family.

With gratitude,

Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D.