Delaware State University’s plan to bring its students back to campus in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic drew raised eyebrows, but has proven remarkably successful.
At the core of the plan is mandatory testing all students and staff twice a week.
Since the school’s 1,700 students returned to campus, only 53 positive cases have been found.
In contrast, one day two weeks ago, the University of Delaware had 34 students test positive in one day. But UD also has more students. About 1,300 students live in dorms, and many more moved back to Newark for because they had signed leases.
The DSU system that’s done so well is being tested by a Sept. 27 off-campus party where a shooting resulted in the death of DSU student Devon Wright. The party was said to have drawn hundreds of young people who were not social distancing, many of them DSU students.
DSU issued a statement that disputed the numbers of students who attended, said there was no proof that the majority of young people there were from DSU and repeated that it was not an official event.
Even so, the school is now bearing down even more on its COVID-19 plan, and wants to ensure the students avoid “social distancing fatigue,” said Carlos Holmes, spokesman for the university.
As of last Friday, DSU had been four confirmed cases quarantined on the campus and four possible cases asked to isolate.
“I knew it was going to be different but coming back to campus has been a surprisingly positive experience,” said Jewell Phillips, a junior mass communications major. “Zoom classes haven’t hurt me much. I know some of my friends in STEM and business who feel different.”
Corbin Weatherspoon, a senior majoring in engineering in physics, said the testing is efficient and well planned.
“There’s no room for error and no room for surprise,” he said.
DSU requires students to wear masks outside of their dorm rooms, and maintain six feet of social distancing. Desks are spaced apart, and the campus has stepped up cleaning, even on things such as benches around campus.
A recent visit to campus showed people following the rules, although the campus was quiet and felt largely empty, especially inside buildings.
Foot traffic is low and only few students could be seen on campus walking around. The overwhelming majority of students not only wore masks, but wore them correctly. Some people walking alone pulled their masks down under their chin when they weren’t near others.
The cafeteria, library, health center, outdoor basketball courts and many of the science buildings remain open.
However, few people were inside those buildings.
While the students are living on campus, only a small portion of them — such as nursing and aviation students — are taking classes in person. Most are online.
“My schedule is weird,” Phillips said, “My schedule is more compact; I feel like I’m doing more schoolwork than usual.”
“Fortunately, we’ve been very successful at virtual teaching,” said Dr. Raymond Tutu, a professor of sociology. “So far in my classes I’m seeing that the students have been very engaged.”
Engineering and physics student Weatherspoon said, “A lot of steps have been taken to make sure we can learn.”
And nobody is letting them forget about COVID-19 safety.
“If students can’t follow the rules, they’re putting their privilege to be on campus in jeopardy,” Holmes said.
“I remember I was standing about two inches too close to someone and got a reminder that I need to be 6 feet apart,” Weatherspoon said.
When a student test comes back positive or a person has come in contact with someone who tested positive, they are isolated in the Warren-Franklin hall for two weeks.
“I know one person who had to be isolated,” Phillips said. “They came in contact with someone who got COVID … They had to isolate with themselves and their roommate.
“They said it was mostly boring because they couldn’t leave. There were RA’s in the lobby to get them the things they needed.”
Holmes said the school is determined to find any possible cases stemming from the Sept. 27 party before they spread.
“Honestly I think it was a sobering moment, hopefully it was sobering enough for the students that it won’t happen again,” Holmes said. “If we know who went to that party, we could test them, but we just don’t know.”