Rapid rise in COVID-19 cases sparks temporary shutdown on campus, off-campus event responsible

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

The cold rain of Wednesday, Oct. 28, brought a chilling news address from President Thomas S. Hibbs to the University of Dallas faculty and students. 

President Hibbs announced a temporary campus lockdown as of 7:00 p.m. that evening, after at least nine new COVID-19 cases had been documented on the Irving campus since Monday of that week, with several more suspected cases awaiting confirmation. Forty-eight hours later, President Hibbs said that the number of cases had risen to 22.

Various student activities both on and off-campus the weekend after Charity Week sparked the rapid rise in cases, according to Kathleen Stansbury of the UD Health Clinic.

“In order to determine the scope of the outbreak, we conducted further testing of residential students,” Stansbury told The University News in an email. 

“This helped to determine which populations on campus were, and are, most affected so that we could take proper action to try and address the situation.”

President Hibbs took swift action to temporary shutdown the campus, allowing OSA and the Health Clinic to perform contact tracing and stop the spread of the virus.

“At the recommendation of our COVID-19 Preparedness Committee, which includes a broad representation of University faculty, staff, and health experts, and out of an abundance of caution, I have decided to shut down most on-campus activities effective immediately until Monday, November 2 at 7:00 am,” wrote the President in his Oct. 28 email.

All in-person classes were moved to virtual learning formats for the remainder of the week, and all in-person student events, sports practices or gatherings were canceled. Non-essential campus staff were asked to work from home. Other immediately effective measures included the closure of the gym, the cafeteria and Capp Bar. 

Administrators strongly encouraged students to remain in their dorms as much as possible, with meals being delivered to resident halls in bulk. Mask-wearing was highlighted as a requirement while outside of dorm rooms and large gatherings were specifically prohibited.

The epicenter for the outbreak appears to be Madonna Hall, according to the president’s email and the measures the university too within the hall. The president reported it as being on the “verge of a strict lockdown” and that “non-residents of Madonna should not be visiting” due to the concentration of cases there.

Coronavirus testing was moved from the Health Clinic to Madonna Hall itself on Tues., Oct. 27. Student reports suggested the move was because of one case whose origin was worryingly vague, and the Health Clinic was preemptively taking action to quell a potential outbreak.

Leo DiBella, a freshman resident in Madonna, described the situation within the hall itself.

“One day the RAs came around and were knocking on doors, telling everyone they needed to be tested,” DiBella said. “We didn’t know why at first; I even asked [an RA] and [he] said ‘We know as much as you do. We just need to get everyone tested.’”

Despite suspicions of an outbreak in Madonna, not all students  complied with instructions to be tested, according to students. 

“They couldn’t have gotten everyone… knowing some of these kids and their priorities, the way they take studying and school very seriously, some of them probably didn’t have any symptoms and felt that they just didn’t have to show up,” DiBella said.

“Many of the confirmed cases have been traced back to conduct that is against University health protocols,” the president confirmed, specifically addressing the lack of mask-wearing.

Mikey Amato, also a freshman from Madonna Hall, tested positive for the coronavirus on Mon., Oct. 26. He reports that the university was very concerned with tracing the path of the virus and worked diligently to locate the exact source of the outbreak.

“I was asked by three different people about who I was around and where I was,” Amato wrote in a text.

Provost Sanford informed the student body on Sun., Nov. 1 that the shutdown had been lifted for classes starting Mon., November 2, following an acute investigation by Student Life.

“The source of the outbreak…was mostly all due to one off-campus event a week ago. There is no evidence of any transmission having come through classes or the cafeteria or the church,” Dr. Sanford confirmed. 

Extracurricular activities and campus events outside of in-person study remain paused. The University continues to maintain that following the proper COVID protocols remains the best defense against the spread of the virus. 

“Many cases have been traced to interaction with asymptomatic carriers not wearing masks. Please wear masks,” President Hibbs stressed.

 

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