Image courtesy of CUA COVID Homepage

By Jacqueline Jedrych

In an effort to inform Catholic University students, parents, and faculty about the presence of the coronavirus on- and off-campus, CUA Health Services and the Office of the Dean of Students operates a COVID-19 dashboard. The site includes data about on- and off-campus cases that were tested through the Health Services and self-reported positive off campus results. As of September 29, there are 22 on-campus cases, and 85 off-campus cases, and 672 tests have been administered on campus. 

However, some have questions regarding the amount of testing, CUA’s transparency with positive cases, and the testing criteria. 

One anonymous discussion post on the CUA Faculty Assembly’s discussion forum posted on September 14 reads, “The MAJOR flaw in this logic and CUA’s strategy that I can see is that it is well-known that there are asymptomatic COVID cases. These individuals can spread the virus to others unknowingly. Hence a testing strategy based ONLY on testing symptomatic students is flawed and akin to playing whack-a-mole. It is an inherently reactive approach and the timelag allows for virus spread unchecked.”

In the rest of the thread, some faculty members defend CUA’s testing criteria, saying it is consistent with the CDC’s testing criteria for IHEs (Institutions of Higher Education). Others claim that the CDC’s guidelines are not protection enough and for universities; vigilant and widespread testing is the key to staying on top of the virus. 

The author also raises concerns about allowing off-campus students unrestricted access to campus and incomplete self-reported data. 

Biomedical associate professor and Faculty Assembly President Dr. Binh Tran raised concern about a recent article comparing the testing plans of University of North Carolina and Duke University, which compare the efficacy of testing before arrival to campus. Duke tested all students before their return to campus, while UNC did not, for “fear of complacency.” UNC also did not use a surveillance testing program. CUA has implemented their testing strategy in a very similar way to UNC.

“CUA’s strategy is much like UNC’s (almost verbatim). While Duke, a private institution with about 6,700 [undergrads] and 10,000 grads, has conducted 57,000 tests of the entire community, CUA has conducted 581 COVID tests to-date (most, 480 since 9/18, in the past 1-2 weeks of athletes),” Tran said. “While Duke, which is 2.5 times larger than CUA, has turned up 75 COVID positives (0.13%) since Aug with their exhaustive testing, 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.” 

From August 24 to September 17, 101 tests were performed. In the week of September 18 to 21, that number spiked, and 331 tests were administered. 

A university email from Sawyer on September 24 addresses the sudden increase in the number of tests. To comply with NCAA guidelines, CUA began surveillance testing on just the student athletes. This is where students are tested without suspected symptoms and are not asked to isolate while waiting for their test results. 

Sawyer says that even with the increase in tests and on campus cases, as long as the caseload stays manageable, the school will remain open for the remainder of the semester. According to Dean of Students Jonathan Sawyer, there is no specific number of cases that would automatically shut down the campus. Sawyer is confident that off-campus students will be responsible with self- reporting and taking tests. 

“At some level,” Sawyer said, “you just have to trust that people are doing enough and that they are making responsible choices.”

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