A floor for sorority members in the Northwest Leoser dormitory on Northeastern State University’s campus has been evacuated after several students showed symptoms of COVID-19, and at least one reportedly tested positive for virus.
Audrey Gilliam, NSU student, said once she and several hall mates reported through the NSU website and to their residential adviser that they were showing symptoms, they were told to vacate the floor where Alpha Omicron Pi members live. She and others have expressed concern that the university is not appropriately broadcasting the information to fellow students.
“One for sure has already tested positive for COVID-19,” said Gilliam. “They sent an email yesterday and it told us to pack up and be off campus by [Thursday].”
According to the student, others on campus have not received any updates about COVID-19 numbers at NSU, which she said is “absolutely ridiculous.” The students now under quarantine were also asked by an RA to keep quiet about the situation to avoid spreading panic.
“I got a message in our floor group chat from my RA, telling us to be silent about the floor quarantine,” said Gilliam. “I’m sure it wasn’t her idea; it came from housing, and it is very alarming to me that they wouldn’t be transparent about anything to all students and staff regarding COVID-19 in a time like this.”
The mother of a male NSU student also complained recently that although her son tested positive, his roommate hadn't been told and his dorm room had not been sanitized. That incident was last week, when an NSU official said the housing department was following protocols.
In the midst of the pandemic, higher education institutions have essentially been left to their own discretion on how to report confirmed cases of the coronavirus. While some schools have publicly released virus statistics as confirmed cases have spiked, others have kept that information private, divulging only to those who are directly affected.
The discrepanies have caused Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Tina Smith and Chris Murphy to ask the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create reporting standards for outbreaks on college campuses.
According to NSU, the students were exposed to the virus during an off-campus gathering.
"On Sept. 8, a group of students, which all lived on a single floor in a campus residence hall, informed NSU's Housing Administration that while attending a social gathering out of town, they encountered an individual who claimed to have a positive diagnosis for COVID-19," said Dan Mabery, NSU vice president for university relations. "In collaboration with the residents and in an effort to be abundantly cautious and mitigate the possible risk of exposure to others, the residents of this floor were asked to quarantine and follow established safety protocols."
The students who tested positive or showed signs of the coronavirus have purportedly not had any serious health concerns. Gilliam believes, though, that NSU should have an open-minded approach about switching classes to online formats, and that failure to provide updated information to students prevents them from making informed decisions.
“If numbers are rising and they’re not switching gears, that’s a major issue,” she said. “But the major issue at hand right now is that there is no way of even knowing if switching to online is necessary due to the lack of pressing information being sent out to anyone by the university."