COVID-19 and CUA: What’s the Latest?

Image courtesy of CUA Human Resources Office

By Shannon Rose Miekka

Less than 20% of Catholic University’s undergraduate students currently live on campus, so most Cardinals have no idea what COVID-19 looks like on the ground at CUA.

CUA’s internal COVID-19 Dashboard, which updates twice weekly, says that the school has conducted 1,301 tests to date since August 24. There have been 130 positive results among the tests administered by Student Health Services and 81 positive self-reported cases. 

The number of on-campus cases have doubled in the last month, totalling to 54 cases to date, or almost 9%  of the 617 residents.

According to the New York Times’s College and Universities COVID Tracker, CUA has seen at least 207 positive cases as of October 22. This is higher than the case numbers at the neighboring universities of Georgetown, George Mason, George Washington, American, Marymount, Howard and Gallaudet. UMD has 775 cases, but it also has 35,000 more (or seven times as many) students. This means that CUA is in the “lead” of DC area schools when it comes to cases per enrollment. 

“Statistically, we’re not just winning, we’re crushing it,” said one faculty member on the anonymous Faculty Assembly Discussion Board. “Any talk of returning to campus in the spring is utterly irresponsible.”

“Mayor Bowser said that Catholic University has taken the most ‘aggressive’ approach of any university in the District to offering its students a residential college experience,” President John Garvey said in his most recent COVID-19 update on October 27. “I think we can take great pride in her recognition of our efforts to bring our students back as much as is safely possible.”

“My principal concern is we get as open as we can, as fast as we can, and the way to do that is for people to engage in safe behavior and to be able to do surveillance testing that lets us catch cases early,” Garvey said.

The matter of surveillance testing has been unclear to students and faculty alike. In September, the school began surveillance testing on student athletes in order to comply with NCAA guidelines. 

In response to the New York Times data, one faculty member wrote: “This large [number] of infections is without even surveillance testing of the CUA community (students, faculty and staff). Surveillance testing is only happening in the athletes, a subset of the campus population.”

Dr. Binh Tran, biomedical associate professor and Faculty Assembly President, is concerned about the low testing rate. He said to the Tower earlier this month, “We have had 50 (out of 581=8.6% positives).  WHO guidelines recommend test positivity rates below 5% before reopening operations (businesses, higher ed, etc). Clearly we are not doing enough testing.” 

On October 2, four representatives from the D.C. Department of Health came to campus and advised more testing. 

In a COVID-19 Newsletter from Catholic U sent on October 8, the school wrote: “Looking ahead to expanded campus operations later in the fall semester and in the spring, [the District Department of Health] asked the University to consider some version of expanded or ‘surveillance’ testing and… compliance with daily health checks as a guard against infected individuals mixing on campus or in the community.”

It is unclear if or when surveillance testing will be expanded and enforced daily health checks will be further enforced.

PART 2: So what’s happening in the spring?

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