Off-campus gatherings involving University of Wyoming students have resulted in at least seven positive cases of COVID-19 infection and caused 47 students to be quarantined since Monday.
The four new cases reported today (Tuesday) weren’t enough to trigger a pause to UW’s phased fall return plan, but university leaders warn that could be the case in coming days as testing of the individual participants continues.
“Working with the Wyoming Department of Health, we have done our best to isolate those who’ve tested positive and quarantine those with whom they’ve had close contact,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “Our hope is that these actions will allow us to move forward with our plans for in-person, on-campus experiences this fall, but ultimately it will be up to every member of the UW community to exercise personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus.”
While the total number of active cases today stands at 28, eight students and one employee are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and awaiting test results. The total number of UW-related positive cases since the pandemic began is 78, a smaller number than many universities across the country.
“With our rigorous program of testing, tracing and quarantine, we still have an opportunity to have a successful semester — but only if we all do what we know we should: avoid large gatherings, wear face protection, practice physical distancing and follow proper hygiene measures,” Seidel says. “If you fail to follow this guidance and come into contact with an infected individual, you could face a 14-day quarantine as required by the Department of Health to protect our entire community.”
Some of the 47 people placed in quarantine since Monday are in UW Greek Life housing; others are in off-campus housing.
“We urge students to refrain from gathering in large groups, on campus or off campus, where physical distancing cannot be met,” Dean of Students Ryan O’Neil says. “The stakes are high, and the behavior of one person can have impacts for many.”
The university intends to pursue student conduct proceedings for these reported incidents. Students hosting or attending gatherings will be placed on interim suspension from the university and will have their campus access temporarily restricted. Students who are placed on interim suspension may not attend classes until their student conduct cases are resolved. Additionally, all students involved who attend these gatherings will be referred to the Dean of Students Office for conduct proceedings. Possible conduct outcomes include:
— Students hosting gatherings may be suspended or permanently dismissed.
— Students attending gatherings may be placed on conduct probation or suspended.
— Students who host or attend “COVID parties” with the expressed intention of spreading the virus may be permanently dismissed from the university.
The university’s COVID contingency plan, approved by the UW Board of Trustees, includes metrics that would trigger a pause to the fall return plan. One of those is if five or more positive tests of symptomatic individuals are detected among UW students and employees in Laramie in a single day.
A pause would be a period of five business days to allow university leaders to collect additional information about the presence of the infection on campus. Seidel then would determine next steps, such as returning to the phased fall return plan or shifting to a fully virtual environment.
Under UW’s pause plan, which may be found here, the university would take steps that include:
— Instructing students in UW campus housing and others in Laramie to shelter in place.
— Delivering all courses online; no in-person classes would be conducted.
— Instructing all employees, with the exception of those designated by supervisors as critical pause personnel, to work remotely.
— Suspending all face-to-face activities, unless approval is given through an exception process.
UW students would be instructed to have contact with only members of their “pods” during a pause. For a student in UW’s residence halls, a pod would consist of all students on that student’s floor. For students living off campus or in UW apartments, a pod would consist of those living together in the same dwelling.
UW Residence Life and Dining Services is making arrangements for food service and activities for residence hall students during a pause.
If a pause is initiated between now and this coming weekend — when many first-time students are scheduled to move into UW’s residence halls for the scheduled start of Phase 2 Monday, Sept. 7 — those students will still be allowed to move in as scheduled.
Also during a pause, UW would continue its surveillance testing of students and employees on campus. And all members of the community would still be expected to complete the COVID Pass daily.
The university is using a third-party provider, Vault Health, to conduct pre-return testing, as well as random-sample “bridge” testing of students and employees on campus as part of Phase 1 of UW’s phased return plan. As of today, 12,782 tests have been processed by Vault Health, 992 of those as part of the bridge testing. A small number of employees and students have taken the test multiple times.
UW Student Health Service also is testing students exhibiting symptoms.
Testing is one of three key components of UW’s plan to allow for an on-campus experience this fall, along with contact tracing and quarantine/isolation of individuals who are exposed or infected. Under the university’s COVID policy, all employees who test positive — on campus or off campus — are required to report those results. Those who receive a positive test result from a private provider should call UW’s COVID Hotline at 307-766-COVD (2683) or email COVID19@uwyo.edu.