OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – As school districts across the state struggle to adjust to changing state policies during the current surge in COVID-19 cases, the question arises: How are universities faring?
Students from Weber State University told ABC4 that they feel safe on campus, are glad students have the right to choose what is best for their health, and are thankful for the steps the university has taken to make getting tested and vaccinated easy.
“We were averaging – the first week or so – about 180 (tests) a day. That’s kind of scaled down to about 100 a day,” WSU Public Health Director Dane LeBlanc told ABC4. He explained that the demand for tests on campus is beginning to drop, and it’s not just that.
“Since Jan. 1, we’ve had 1,318 cases, and those are either through self-reports or out testing efforts,” he stated. With more than 24,000 students, he said that caseload isn’t as bad as it could be, and the rolling-positivity rate for tests remains significantly lower than the surrounding communities.
Utah law does not allow universities to require masks or the COVID-19 vaccine. However, LeBlanc explained that the university requires staff and students to report a positive case for contact tracing.
“Our contact tracers were getting at least 40 cases a day or more (at the beginning of January), now we’re down to like 20.”
According to LeBlanc, when a staff member or student reports a positive test to the university, contact tracers usually get that information out to those who may have been exposed within 12 hours. Students who have been exposed also get a notification of the proper steps to take after exposure.
Why are cases declining on campus? It could be for several reasons. For example, the omicron surge could be reaching its peak, or the contact tracing could be preventing large-scale outbreaks at the university. However, university officials give most of the credit to the students and staff for their commitment to doing their part.
Currently, about 81% of students and 91% of staff members are vaccinated. LeBlanc explained that with the new surge, mask use has increased as well. He said about 50% of students and 75% of staff use masks while in class.
“I started wearing it because cases did start picking up again and so, I just felt it like it was best for my health and other people’s health,” student Leilani Moss stated. Her friend, Sharlize Richards, said she feels the same way. She then added, “Since I don’t have the vaccine, I feel like I should be wearing my mask more often than not.”
Moss is fully vaccinated, and Richards hasn’t started the series yet. Richards told ABC4 that she has some allergies that make her nervous about getting new vaccines.
Moss and Richards both said they feel safe on campus, and they are glad people can choose what’s best for their health. They told ABC4 that they are also glad the university offers testing and vaccinations on campus.
“You can get your booster shot and make an appointment for that, so I think that’s great,” Richards stated. To which Moss replied, “I actually got my vaccination here and it was fairly simple, and she (pointing to Richards) was with me the whole time.” Richards then added, “Yeah, it was a really easy process.”
Leblanc told ABC4 that professors can move their classes temporarily online if they, or any of their students, are ill. However, he said only a handful have needed to so far.
Adding that due to all classes moving online earlier in the pandemic, the infrastructure is in place to make the transition to online learning easy.