After weeks of rising COVID-19 cases on campus, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, as cases have begun to decline.
During the first week of March, quarantine and isolation housing was at peak occupancy, housing 429 students. These numbers reflect that 71 percent of the total beds reserved for students in quarantine and isolation housing were full during this period. With the number of positive cases on campus growing rapidly, the University opted to reserve 263 quarantine beds in local hotels, including the Comfort Suites Hotel in Vestal. Additionally, many students residing in the Hillside Community were forced to evacuate their rooms to make space for students who needed to isolate themselves. Now, 338 isolation beds are open on campus in five different residential buildings. In total, 601 quarantine and isolation beds are available through the University. There were only 202 quarantine and isolation beds available last semester, which never exceeded 40 percent occupancy, or about 80 students.
During this surge of cases, Chaviva Liss, a sophomore majoring in human development, had to be moved to quarantine housing after being exposed to COVID-19.
”My roommate tested positive, so I had to quarantine,” Liss said. “I expected to be placed in a residence hall on campus as my friends had isolated [on campus] last semester. Instead, I was shocked when they told me that I was going to a nearby hotel to quarantine.”
As of March 24, quarantine beds were at 4 percent occupancy, and cases have been steadily declining. As of March 24, BU has 55 positive cases for the March 13 to March 26 period. Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs, said the University was happy to see the sudden decline in positive COVID-19 cases.
”We are pleased that the number of positive tests [has] dropped significantly,” Rose wrote in an email. ”Testing in late February saw our 14-day rolling average of positive tests above 3 percent. By contrast, our daily positives have recently been well below 1 percent such that the overall infection rate is down to 1.3 percent.”
While it is hard to pinpoint a specific reason for this decrease, Rose identified a few key factors that have reduced the spread, including efforts from both students and administrators.
”The University’s efforts to quickly isolate positive cases and quarantine those with exposure likely helped to slow the further spread,” Rose wrote. ”The cooperation of students in reducing social gatherings and being more attentive to social distancing was noticeable, and the efforts to reduce opportunities for transmission by pausing sit-down dining [and] campus recreation activities likely also helped.”
Now that cases are on a downward trend, many restrictions have lightened up. As of March 24, in-person dining is allowed at 50 percent capacity, residential lounges can now be used for socially distanced events and club sports may now restart in-person activities. If cases continue on this trend, Rose said that more restrictions will be lifted. He added that the University watches the testing data daily in order to determine the next steps for what restrictions need to be imposed or lifted.
Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, commented on future restrictions being lifted, including the reopening of the College-in-the-Woods Dining Center.
”We anticipate lifting additional restrictions, as well as reopening [the College-in-the-Woods Dining Center] to the general population, as long as our numbers continue to improve,” Yarosh wrote.
On March 17, which was St. Patrick’s Day, no classes were held due to the first of three rejuvenation days of the spring semester. However, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that is quite popular among college students for attending parties and gatherings. At BU, events like parades and the flag-raising in Downtown Binghamton are very popular among University students.
Eva Miller, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, shared her thoughts on rejuvenation days and their potential side effects on campus COVID-19 cases.
”There is always a risk that it will spike, regardless of the rejuvenation days,” Miller said. ”Meaning, it could spike after any weekend or whenever people have more free time. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if there was spiking after the rejuvenation days, but, as we know, a correlation does not inherently mean it is the cause. Either way, especially amidst the pandemic, the students are in a greater need of rejuvenation days, although as always, we should be safe and cautious.”