After Clemson University announced 373 new cases of the coronavirus this week in students and employees, Clemson is requiring all students to get tested for the coronavirus, according to a campus message from President James Clements. .
Previously, off-campus students were not required to get tested, but that changed after testing data revealed a 15% positive rate out of 2,504 tests conducted this week, according to the university’s COVID-19 data dashboard.
Clements said the school may continue to see a rise in cases as the weeks progress.
“As we move forward, we are keenly aware that we should prepare for an increase in COVID-19 cases among our students following our return to campus instruction and activities, as we have seen at other universities in recent weeks,” his Friday email to students and employees read.
The university is not making any changes to its academic calendar at this time, University spokesperson Joe Galbraith said.
Senior Emma Ressler said the numbers were “pretty shocking,” and were released without much fanfare.
“It also just looked like the number has spiked since students have come back. So I’m definitely surprised that we haven’t heard anything like officially from Clemson. It seems like everything is just kind of hidden away on the dashboard,” Ressler said.
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The count is up from 115 new cases and a percent-positive rate of 5.5% from last week. Since testing began in June, 712 students and 70 employees have tested positive for the virus. According to university policy, students who test positive are asked to self-isolate for 14 days and avoid all contact with others.
In his email, Clements said “a small number of students” will be asked to relocate from their assigned on-campus dorms next week to make room for more on-campus isolation facilities. The students asked will not be freshman.
Galbraith said the university does not release information regarding asymptomatic versus symptomatic patients.
Clemson University is currently testing employees and off-campus students. On-campus students move onto campus beginning Sept. 11, according to university officials.
Jordan Frith, a communications professor, said he’s “extremely grateful” the university delayed in-person instruction by four weeks.
“As I have said throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of our community is of paramount importance. We will not hesitate to adjust our mode of instruction again if the spread of the disease becomes such that it poses too great a threat to our students, employees or the community at large,” Clements’ email reads.
The testing data is released two weeks after police began enforcing the city’s mandatory mask ordinance, issuing about 150 violations in two days to bar goers in the downtown entertainment district.
On Monday, the City of Clemson released a report indicating a spike in the virus’ presence in wastewater samples from the treatment plant serving the northern part of the city. There is “significant concern” about the virus’ presence in the community based on the samples taken at the Cochran Road plant, according to the report.
Ressler said she’s seen hundreds of students walking to bars downtown in recent weeks.
“It seems people are trying to go back to their normal behavior pre-COVID and that’s definitely a concern for me,” she said.
Other South Carolina colleges have seen outbreaks in student populations.
South Carolina’s largest college, the University of South Carolina, has more than 1,000 active cases of the virus in students, according to their COVID-19 data dashboard. They started the semester with in-person classes, which are ongoing.
At Furman University, more than 30 students tested positive for the coronavirus after a fraternity party. The university implemented a student body-wide testing strategy in response.
But Frith said he doesn’t see how Clemson’s reopening plan will result in any other outcomes.
“What is Clemson doing differently than all these other universities that have failed at it so far? … I think they’re taking it seriously and all of that. But I don’t quite know what is different about Clemson from South Carolina, UNC or Iowa?”
The University of North Carolina went virtual after 100 cases of the virus were reported in the week after in-person classes started. Faculty at the University of Iowa staged a “sick out” this week in protest of the university’s reopening guidelines.
“I don’t think the administration is to blame or anything, but we saw this spike up to 373 in a week, and the university is not even open,” Frith said.
This story will be updated.
Zoe covers Clemson for The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @zoenicholson_
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