With the University of Delaware seeing a jump in the number of positive tests for COVID-19, it has harshened the repercussions students face if caught hosting or attending gatherings larger than those allowed by the city of Newark.
This week the school had 64 total cases. More than half — 34 — came on Thursday and 14 were asymptomatic cases in which the person showed no signs of having the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
While any student can have a free test, UD has been randomly selecting students and asking them to get tested as well.
“The selections are a suggestion; we just ask that they get tested,” said Andrea Boyle Tippett, head of external relations for UD.
The number of college cases has figured heavily during Gov. Jack Carney’s weekly COVID-19 press conference. He and other health officials have pointed to other states, which have had to shut down classes and change other things because of big outbreaks. No one wants that here.
Carney and state health officials have said that students are most likely to be infected at off-campus social events where COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitizing.
The city of Newark, afraid of what was happening in other college towns where classes started earlier than UD, instituted an emergency rule before UD students returned. It said that no more than 12 adults could be inside a private residence and no more than 20 outside.
While COVID-19 cases numbers rose when students returned to college, at first officials said that was because of preschool testing, which caught cases people were not aware of.
Now, everybody is worried about cases resulting from off-campus events.
In addition to its ongoing “Protect the Flock” campaign, UD this week ramped up its random testing, clocking around 1,200 tests.
When someone tests positive in Delaware, the state Division of Public Health contact tracers will reach out to that person. They try to determine where a positive case has been and with whom he or she has been in touch, and then warn that person. If successful, they can break the chain of transmission by getting those exposed to self-quarantine and be tested themselves.
In addition to the random tests, “we have also been testing about 25% of the student athlete population a week as well,” Tippett said. “They’re often in close contact with each other during practices.”
With a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, UD has implemented stronger punishments for students disobeying the city ordinance that caps the number of people inside and outside a property.
Carney and state health officials have said that students don’t seem to worry about violating state health rules or about getting back in touch with contact tracers. But they do care about getting in touch with their university and having it show up on their college records or having letters sent to their parents, officials have said.
UD’s new punishments are on top of fines or community service that can be given out by the city of Newark for violating the gatherings ordinance.
“I’d first like to say that the majority of students have been following the rules to keep themselves and others safe,” Tippett said. “There has only been a small minority of students hosting and attending parties.”
Most have been held off campus.
“So far there have been four gatherings that included UD students that exceeded the limit since the ordinance was put in place,” Tippett said.
Students charged with hosting parties will be recommended to UD’s Office of Student Conduct and charged with a suspension that could lead to expulsion.
Students charged for attending a party will be given a citation and put on probation, which could lead to a suspension if the student commits another infraction.
“So far 30 students have been cited,” Tippett said. “The university had been alerted by the Newark Police department and the students were recommended to the Office of Student Conduct.”