Originally published here.
By Johannes Becht
In fall 2020, the first semester with students back on campus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, SWOSU experienced a significant outbreak of cases. After a month of classes with an average of 20 to 30 students being reported positive, that number jumped to 81 and eventually 134 cases in late September.
Back then, the SWOSU administration had developed a contingency plan that provided a guideline on what measures to take amid rising COVID infections among the student body. If 250 students, or around 5% of the student population, had been infected, most classed would have gone virtual with labs staying open. 375 (7.5%) infections could have resulted in campus closure.
This year, however, things look a bit different. Numbers almost instantly jumped to 43 reported positive cases after just one week of classes in session. There is no doubt that SWOSU is currently experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases on campus.
“We are watching it,” SWOSU President Dr. Diane Lovell said.
The good news: Lovell estimates that between 30-40% of the students are vaccinated, which drastically lowers the risk of severe consequences if infected with COVID. She also estimates that around 1,500 students have already taken advantage of the $100 incentive program for vaccinated students or for those with sincere medical or religious objections.
Also, SWOSU took several precautions against the spread, for example increased air ventilation in all buildings, according to Lovell. In addition, all plexiglass was put back up, and SWOSU keeps encouraging social distancing.
“We can have a rise”
Nevertheless, the administration has a contingency plan, according to the president.
“The contingency plan does not have an exact number of infections that would cause us to take some action, because this time, the pandemic is different. We can have a rise in our cases.”
Lovell’s primary concern is hospitals reaching their capacity limits. Due to the new Delta variant, even younger people would be more at risk than during the last surge if not vaccinated. Even minors could die from COVID, as an example from Yukon shows, according to the president. But the main problem remaining is the amount of students who go home over the weekends, possibly unaware of an infection, thereby transmitting the virus to loved ones who are more at risk.
However, with state legislation prohibiting the university from implementing a mask mandate, the administration might be forced to shut down campus if case numbers went up too much, simply due to a lack of alternatives. However, considering past surges at SWOSU and the almost immediate drops one or two weeks after, it is unlikely that a campus closure will happen.
If you want to get vaccinated, you can do so every Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Pioneer Event Center. If you have symptoms or want to visit a friend/relative who is at risk, you can get tested at the Nurse’s Office Monday-Friday 8-12 a.m. and 1-5 p.m.