Virus cases crop up on Delaware college campuses

Positive COVID-19 cases are beginning to appear among college and university students in the state, as hot spots crop up in Newark and Dover.

The University of Delaware has reported 41 positive cases of the virus since Sept. 3. Last week, Wesley College reported its first positive case Sept. 2. Less than 1% of the total on-campus students, faculty and staff at Delaware State University have tested positive. (Goldey-Beacom College announced an online semester, with residence halls closed, in August.)

Both UD and DSU have a population of students living on campus, but have courses mostly online. Wesley’s students are on campus, with courses a mixture of remote and in-person classes.

“The hardest demographic, I think, to reach is the demographic where the spread is the highest — that young adult/college age/just-after-college population that feels invincible, that feels like they’ll never get sick. But they will, and they can, if they’re exposed to COVID-19,” Gov. John Carney said during a press conference Tuesday.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said epidemiologists and case investigators have found that there’s “no single point of exposure” for the cases at UD. She pointed to zip codes 19711 and 19713 as two of the areas of concern. Dover — in addition to Bear, Glasgow, Wilmington and New Castle — was also flagged on Dr. Rattay’s map Tuesday.

“A number of these young adults are either in group living situations or involved in off-campus social activities,” she said of UD. “Some centered around a couple of sports teams, but more so with off-campus social activities that seem to be related to or how these individuals are getting exposed.”

DPH is conducting the contact tracing for positive cases, she added.

“We are having a tough time getting responses from some of the UD students,” she said, attributing it in part to confusion as to who is conducting the contract tracing and a fear of consequences.

Gov. Carney noted that the COVID-19 challenges tend to stem from “unstructured environments” such as house parties, rather than bars and restaurants (though that’s still an area of concern, he added).

“We’re trying to get ahead of it here in Delaware… to work with local and campus police [and] personnel and mostly the unstructured, out-of-classroom, off-campus activities in Newark and in Dover that cause the real problem,” he said.

UD, DSU and Wesley each have their own style of testing for their campus populations. DSU is working with Testing for America, a nonprofit, to test its population on campus twice a week. Students were tested prior to, and during, move-in in late August. Employees were tested prior to their return, in mid-August.

UD is likewise testing on campus, but frequency of testing is dependent “on your possible exposure to others, your health condition and your risk factors” but random testing of individuals may occur to better monitor the possible transmission of COVID-19 on campus, according to the website.

Wesley, which is slated to be acquired by DSU by next summer, is hoping to work with TFA, but currently is utilizing community sites off-campus to test its population.

“Although I think there’s a feeling among young adults that, ‘Eh, it’s just going to be a mild infection, it’s not going to affect anyone,’ we know a number of young adults who’ve had very significant illness,” Dr. Rattay said.

“And, again, we just don’t know the long-term impact of this but we’re seeing more and more studies showing that. For example, athletes may be having significant cardiovascular heart or lung impacts from COVID-19. So we’ve got to all take this seriously, no matter what age.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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