As students returned to campus last fall, there was a sense of uncertainty as the threat of COVID-19 outbreaks loomed over the university. Students, staff and faculty wondered just how long everyone would be on campus and when they would be sent home.
Over the summer, the Torch spoke to former Dean of Students, Julie DeGraw who said the primary goal of the university was to keep the students on campus for as long as possible. The guidelines were set in place in order to attain that goal.
“I think the precautions we set in place were the right ones,” Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life Ryan Blevins said. “The masking and physical distancing , thinning out the floors, offering single rooms to first-year students if they wanted them--all students, if they wanted a single room, [we] made that happen for them. The hand sanitizing station and things like that; I think those were all solid and good.”
Throughout the year, the Valpo community only had to go fully online twice. Once in November and once in March.
“Early on the thought was, people wanted to know what the positivity rate was well at the time we were only testing symptomatic people so the positivity rate was very very high,” said Rick AmRhein Vice President for Community and Government Relations. “And the sense of the leadership at the time was that is not indicative of what the actual rate on campus is so the decision was to not to put all that data out there because the thought was some of it could be misleading.”
Halloween was the cause for a spike in cases which caused the university to go online for the rest of the fall semester.
“What happened in reality was in the week following Halloween there were a lot of people out and about doing stuff and the week following Halloween both the numbers on campus and the numbers in the county were on a precipitous rise. I mean rising a great deal everyday and that’s when the decision was we just need to finish the semester online,” AmRhein said.
The dashboard was expanded during the spring semester when the testing of the campus population increased.
“When we decided to do the entire campus population at the start of spring, when we started to do surveillance testing that’s when we decided thus data would be more relevant and more truly indicative of what’s happening on campus,” AmRhein said.
According to the data from the COVID-19 Dashboard, the second spike occurred on March 2 with over 60 people testing positive and having to go into isolation.
“We had a number of positive cases that we did contact tracing resulted in over 200 people to varying levels of exposure,” Blevins said.
The height of the March quarantine reached 79 positive cases with 351 people in quarantine due to contact tracing.
“The reason we had to go virtual for both the end of fall and then mid semester [spring] was…[because] we were running out of quarantine spaces,” Blevins said. “And we needed to kind of put a pause on things so that we could catch up basically.”
When we decided to do the entire campus population at the start of spring, when we started to do surveillance testing that’s when we decided thus data would be more relevant and more truly indicative of what’s happening on campus
Maintaining quarantine bed availability was the biggest obstacle to remaining in-person throughout this academic year.
“If I knew what I know now, back in June or July, I would have expanded quarantine housing to include more than just the first floor of Alumni Hall and some suits in Beacon Hall,” Belvins said.
The week prior to this spike, Valpo instituted a mass surveillance testing program on campus where they attempted to test every student on campus for COVID-19.
“I mean [the spike] was expected; I think everyone knew that was going to happen,” said senior public health major Justin McClain.
For the Easter break, it was made short enough for people to go home and be with their families but not long enough for them to be going on vacations.
“We wanted it long enough for people to go home, but not so long that some people would go home and have their holiday and then go somewhere else. And some people have spent weekends in places that have actually caused spikes,” AmRhein said.
However, according to McClain, the COVID-19 cases were higher second semester than they were first semester.
“The case counts were higher second semester than they were at almost any point first semester, which the university, I think, attributed to more testing,” McClain said.
First semester data is not yet available to the Valparaiso community; however, McClain did keep track of first semester’s dashboard data.
According to McClain’s data, which was taken from the University dashboard last semester, Nov 9 reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases over the course of the semester. That date shows 27 cases with 103 people quarantined.
Compared to the spring semester, the COVID-19 Dashboard reports March 6 with the highest number of cases in a single day. Valpo reported 79 positive cases with 351 people in isolation.
The university will be making first semester data public towards the end of the semester so numbers are subject to change.
“The challenge with students tracking the data is they are not aware of some of the nuances that come along with that,” Blevins said.
According to a Torch analysis, on average, Valpo has experienced a total of 12 existing cases each day this semester.
“As much as I have called Valpo out on their flaws, I do appreciate how they have done a better job this semester,” McClain said. “As far as, like, doing more testing, continuing to enforce the mask rule and how, recently, with the vaccinations they made progress.”