HCHD: Spike in UofR COVID-19 cases result of ‘arrival testing’ for students; concerns rise over social gatherings

Cases climb at the University of Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The University of Richmond reported what it calls a “disturbing” uptick in COVID-19 cases less than a week after the spring semester began.

As of Jan. 24, the University of Richmond has reported 79 total COVID-19 cases. There are also several other students who are in quarantine due to close contact with a COVID positive person.

Based on the university’s arrival testing to date, undergraduate students living off-campus have had a positivity rate of 17% compared to 1.4% for students living on campus.

“It really is from this arrival testing and being overly cautious in how they try to maintain and not have transmission occur on campus as much as possible,” said Rebecca Lewis, Senior Epidemiologist for the Henrico County Health District.

That is why through Feb. 8 undergraduate students who live off-campus will not be allowed on campus and will learn virtually.

Undergraduate students living off-campus may only return to campus for the following reasons:

  • Accessing the Student Health Center for medical care;
  • Participating in mandatory University prevalence testing; or
  • Picking up pre-reserved library materials from the cart outside the entrance of the Library or class materials from the bookstore using the mobile bookstore located on the Forum.

Lewis said a vast majority of cases are from students who do not live on campus and are from outside the Commonwealth.

“It really shows the surge that we are seeing in the community,” Lewis said. “The vast majority of these students are from out of state.”

While these recent measures were put in place starting Monday, university leaders are also concerned after they were made aware of at least two parties held last week - one on campus and one off.

Lewis said the recent positive cases are not directly tied to those parties.

“I will say it’s possible we may see increased cases in the next week or two lingering from that party,” she added.

Whether you are a college student or an older adult, Lewis said it’s incredibly easy for COVID-19 to spread in a party environment.

“Once you add in alcohol people forget about social distancing, they don’t care about their masks,” she said. “They’re sharing drinks or sharing food. You’re just not thinking about anything like that.”

Steve Bisese, the university’s vice president for student development, posted a letter on Friday regarding new cases and recent student gatherings.

“We also know that our positive cases among students are most often associated with parties or other social gatherings where people are not wearing masks and are not following our Physical Distancing Framework,” Bisese said. “The irresponsible and selfish decisions of a few individuals put us all at risk and clearly violate the University’s Interim Conduct policies.”

Bisese said it is disappointing to need to remind students to comply with health and safety protocols, such as wearing a mask, avoiding social gatherings and staying on campus.

“If this behavior does not cease, we will face the prospect of going remote like we did last spring,” Bisese said. “... I’m imploring you to reach into the depths of your selflessness to demonstrate care for one another and the entire Spider family. Your actions and your examples matter.”

As for students who live on campus, they are asked to remain on campus for the time being.

  • Students may seek an exception from their College Dean for essential trips off campus, such as doctor’s appointments, employment, or grocery shopping if you live in an apartment and do not have a University meal plan. Please note that many grocery stores deliver and/or provide pick-up services.
  • May get delivery of food from local restaurants as long as it is a contactless delivery and the delivery person does not enter the residence hall or apartment.

University leadership said it would revisit the campus restrictions as they get results from the prevalence testing for all undergraduate students which will take place over the next two weeks.

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