Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer
VCU and other Virginia universities continue to report new COVID-19 cases as the fall semester continues, using online dashboards, prevalence testing and isolation housing to monitor and prevent the risk of outbreaks. Here’s a breakdown of how VCU’s cases compare to Richmond and other universities, as well as what students should know to stay safe ahead of midterms:
As of Tuesday, VCU’s coronavirus dashboard reported 46 active COVID-19 cases among students and seven among employees, for a total of 53 cases. Since the semester began, the university has reported 195 student cases.
The City of Richmond has reported 772 additional COVID-19 cases since Aug. 17, the first day of VCU’s fall semester. Thursday, the city reported 77 new cases, the highest daily increase since June 1.
Isolation and quarantine
The Honors College — which was used by VCU Health System as overflow hospital space for non-COVID-19 patients during the summer — was recently converted into isolation housing for students. According to the dashboard, this is because of a cluster of 44 positive coronavirus cases associated with VCU Athletics. Gladding Residence Center III is also being used for isolation housing.
There are seven students in isolation and 29 in quarantine as of Tuesday. Isolation separates those who test positive for COVID-19 from those who are not sick, according to VCU’s dashboard, while quarantine is for those who are not sick but may have been exposed.
The dashboard counts on-campus students in isolation and quarantine. It does not track the number of non-residential or off-campus students who have quarantined themselves in their homes.
VCU’s positivity rate –– the percentage of prevalence tests from an asymptomatic sample resulting positive for COVID-19 –– is 0.7%. The City of Richmond has a 7.5% positivity rate.
Richmond’s percent positivity is based on statistics from the Virginia Department of Health, which counts all testing encounters. VCU has performed 413 prevalence tests among asymptomatic volunteers to calculate its positivity rate; three resulted positive.
The university plans to test up to 5% of the student population, which would be around 1,500 students.
Other Virginia schools
Radford University has reported 357 cumulative positive coronavirus cases in a population of around 11,060 students. The university recorded a positivity rate of 12.3% as of Monday, counting positive cases among its 2,911 campus-based tests. Radford, like VCU, also conducted prevalence testing among a sample of 492 people in late August — those tests resulted in a 4.9% positivity rate.
After more than 500 coronavirus cases were reported at James Madison University, the school moved to online instruction and asked students to leave dorms. On its website, the university stated that classes will now be held almost exclusively online, with some hybrid instruction for graduate research students and specialized upper-class courses. The website states that this will be a temporary transition. Students who currently have COVID-19 will not be sent home until they have tested negative.
Virginia Tech reported 119 students in isolation and quarantine housing as of Tuesday and 503 cumulative positive COVID-19 cases since Aug. 3.
George Mason University requires its students to complete a daily health check and has a chart on its website explaining how many days to quarantine in different situations. According to the university’s online dashboard on Tuesday, there have been 16 coronavirus cases among students — out of 3,539 tests — and seven among employees since Aug. 16.
Will VCU close?
University spokesperson Leila Ugincius said there is not a certain case number that will cause VCU to close, but rather a combination of different factors. The VCU Public Health Response Team will look at the prevalence of COVID-19 in VCU and Richmond, the availability of testing and the availability of hospital space and isolation housing.
It is possible that VCU will revert to online-only classes if there are not enough tests, isolation housing or if there are too many coronavirus cases, Ugincius said.
How to Get Tested
Students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 can get tested for free by calling University Student Health at 1-804-MYCOVID. The student will then be referred by VCU Student Health to one of two testing spaces: RamBikes at 201 N. Belvidere St. or MCV’s Jonah L. Larrick Student Center at 900 Turpin St.
Students can volunteer for asymptomatic prevalence testing through a form available at covidtest.vcu.edu.
How to Get Supplies
Supply kits — consisting of hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and masks — will be available at two VCU locations. Kits are at the University Student Commons information desk from noon to 8 p.m. daily. On the MCV campus, they will be available at the Hunton Student Center information desk from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. A VCU ID card is required to get a supply kit.
Vending machines stocked with masks and sanitizer are available on campus. Supplies are free, but students and staff must use a VCU card to dispense the products.