The University of Utah has confirmed that “a handful” of the students who moved into the dorms this week have tested positive for the coronavirus.
School spokesman Chris Nelson declined to say exactly how many students have been quarantined. But the U. plans to release a final count, he added, when move-in has wrapped up on Monday — the same day that classes begin.
“We have had a handful of positive cases,” he said Friday. “And we are checking for who else may have been exposed.”
The Salt Lake County Health Department later confirmed that there are at least three active cases in campus housing, as well as an additional one in the dorms at nearby Westminster College. Health spokesman Nicholas Rupp said a few more students tested positive but decided to go home to recover and are not counted in the totals.
Before students can get a key to their room this year at either school, they are required to get tested for COVID-19. Nelson said the U. anticipated that some of those tests would come back positive. And they are responding with the protocol they set up.
Students with the virus have been moved to isolation rooms, for now. The school has 400 of those set up throughout the dorm buildings across campus. Those individuals will not be able to leave for at least 14 days and need a negative test to be released. That means they cannot attend classes in person when campus reopens.
Additionally, if a positive student came in close contact with a roommate while unpacking before getting their results — defined as within 10 feet for more than 15 minutes — those individuals are being asked to quarantine in their rooms. Getting the results takes about 24 hours, so there is the possibility of exposure.
The school has its own contact tracers to try to determine who might be affected.
Some students who came with their belongings Friday morning had already said that they were worried about possible cases. Joy Kavapalu, a junior student at the U., said, “I’m excited to move in but like UNC, I’m scared something will happen,” referring to the University of North Carolina. It closed after one week and returned to fully remote education after students started testing positive for COVID-19.
Hope Farrar, another junior, added: “I know I’m going to be as safe as possible, but I know, too, many people who aren’t and it sucks because it’s going to ruin it for everyone else.”
Once the cases were confirmed, some students posted about them on Twitter. One graduate student wrote: “Students moved into the dorms this week and there has already been confirmed sets of cases in one of the buildings. This is going to be great.”
Move-in started on Tuesday, a few days earlier than usual, to make it more staggered and socially distant. About 3,600 total students are expected to move in and be living on campus by Sunday.
But everyone has been required to wear masks, Nelson added. And students are limited to having two family members help them move their belongings in.
In addition to the U., an Ogden charter school has instructed some of its students to quarantine due to a confirmed case there earlier this week.
— Tribune staffer Francisco Kjolseth contributed to this story.