Rowan University’s plan to track and contain COVID-19 cases

Raven Santana, Correspondent | September 14, 2020 | Education

It’s back to school but not back to normal for students at Rowan University.

“This is our student center patio. Normally, on a daily basis this would be lined with students, particularly in the middle of classes, but now we’ve translated it into our campus dining area,” said Kevin Koett, vice president of student life and dean of students at Rowan University. “We have about 4,000 students on campus, 4,088 to be exact, living on campus right now. That’s about a little over 50% of our population, so we were very intentional to de-densify our housing population.”

It was a bumpy start to the school year after the university reported more than 100 cases of the coronavirus since Aug. 25 and more than 200 since March.

“As of right now, we are sitting somewhere between 131 cases that we know of that are within the window period that they had a positive test within the past 10 days,” said Scoot Woodside, director of Rowan’s Wellness Center. “We are tracking them, reaching out to them, isolating them. We’re making sure close contacts are identified and they get the quarantine information that they need. We do have an isolation facility on campus. We currently have 39 students in that isolation facility, well below capacity.”

Woodside says that the key to keeping everyone safe isn’t just testing people as soon as they arrive to campus.

“A test is only a snapshot. I’m dealing with a lot of students right now who are contacts, and a lot of people believe they can get a test and that’s it. If they get a negative they’re good to go, but that’s not the case,” Woodside said. “The incubation for COVID is between two and 14 days. So unless you’re testing every day, or every other day, it’s not reasonable to have that expectation. What’s reasonable is that we isolate and quarantine. You keep students separate who we know are infectious. That is the public health intervention.”

Woodside and Koett say they have been tirelessly working on a comprehensive plan that revolves around transparency and flexibility.

“Some classes that are 100% online, that students are 100% off campus and don’t ever come in person. We have some classes, particularly our laboratory classes, that meet in-person. Our faculty and our facility staff did an amazing job. They went through every classroom on campus and looked at the fire code capacity, but then did the math of making sure that the seats were 6 feet apart at a minimum,” Koett said. “Then there’s something called a hybrid, where someone might have a significant number of their lectures online or in a virtual environment, but they might come to campus once a week for a lab experience. So there’s a combination of the two.”

In addition to hiring more cleaning crews, the university is also offering free COVID-19 saliva tests.

“We’re expanding it to probably about 2%, so we’re looking to do between 50 and 100 every week that we’re testing in this random surveillance,” Woodside said.

And for students who are feeling tempted to get a taste of the pre-COVID-19 college experience, Dr. Judith Lightfoot, the chief of Infectious Disease at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine shares a stern warning.

“You will have the rest of your lives to enjoy parties, festivities. Now is not the time,” Lightfoot said.