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Four students have tested positive for the coronavirus — so far — at Utah State University’s dorms, according to the first set of results to come back since hundreds of residents there were quarantined this week.
The school released the numbers Thursday after about 80% of the students in the impacted dorm buildings reported the outcome of their tests. Complete results are expected by the end of the week.
“But it’s looking good right now,” said USU spokesperson Emilie Wheeler.
Utah State initially put 287 students living on campus under a quarantine order on Sunday after detecting high levels of COVID-19 in the wastewater from four of the residence halls. The sewage sampling is a new way for colleges to monitor for outbreaks of COVID-19 before it spreads and was developed by a team of Utah researchers.
The students who had just moved into the Rich, Jones, Morgan and Davis halls at the Logan campus were told they’d have to temporarily stay in their rooms, missing the first day of classes Monday and eating meals delivered by the school. And they had to get swabbed to determine who among them actually had the virus and would need to isolate.
With the majority of results in from that testing, about half of the students have been released from quarantine. Wheeler said that includes those living in 29 suites across the affected buildings.
“They’re free to go out now,” she added.
All roommates in a suite must test negative before the residents can be let go. If one is positive, that individual will be transferred to an isolation room to recover. The other students will be required to finish out a 14-day quarantine because of exposure.
Utah State has hired its own contact tracers to determine who may have come in close contact with a case, as well.
While the students at Utah State are being asked to self-report the results of their tests in a questionnaire, individuals won’t be able to report a negative just to get out of quarantine. The Bear River Health District, which covers that area in northern Utah, is verifying the student responses before they can get released, Wheeler confirmed.
On Thursday, the health district also reported its highest single-day jump in virus cases for the last month. It now has 2,645 total — up 54 from the previous day. The other spikes there have come after 287 positive tests were reported in late May among workers at JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum. That outbreak was also detected ahead of time by the wastewater testing.
Part of the jump may be due to Utah State — the new cases and possibly people, such as parents, being tested because they were concerned they had contact with students there during move-in week. But also, 46 people who are incarcerated at the Cache County jail have tested positive, the sheriff’s office announced Wednesday.
Wheeler said with the wastewater samples at Utah State, “the levels were high enough for us to take action” as a precaution in the dorms. And it’s likely the school will see more positive case reports with the remaining 20% of students left to submit their results.
Ryan Schmutz, a freshman who had been quarantined with his roommates, said Thursday that all six of the tests from his suite came back negative. He’s excited to get out and joked that his first stop will be the grocery store.
“We are officially free,” he said. “I’m going to go anywhere out of this dorm.”
Megan Gurney, another freshman also was quarantined, said she and her roommate tested negative, as well. She plans to go home this weekend and attend a wedding. “It’s going to be so nice to get out,” she added, after being inside for five days.
At USU, before the sewage tests, there had been 21 active cases. On Thursday, the numbers on the school’s website now indicate 38 active cases among students and staff, including the four in the dorms.
Wheeler said she wasn’t sure what percentage of positive cases the school had expected from the wastewater sampling. But the same monitoring will be also used at Brigham Young University in Provo and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The U. started that Monday; prior, though, it had 16 cases among the residents in its dorms.
By next week, Utah State also plans to provide rapid testing options for students.