February 5, 2021
Furman Focused update: Orange Phase continues
Dear Campus Community,
It has been great to see more student activity around campus this week, even if it’s still in small groups. We hope students have enjoyed getting back into the PAC and the dining hall.
While the overall disease prevalence in Greenville is very slowly improving, it continues to be exponentially higher than when we ended the fall semester. We know students are eager to get back to volunteering, interning and socializing in the Greenville community, but the risks for individual exposures that then threaten the entire campus prevent us from allowing those opportunities at this time.
We cannot sufficiently express our sincere appreciation for the individual sacrifices and thoughtful decisions that students are making for the good of the greater community.
We completed random surveillance testing for 831 on-campus students this week, resulting in 15 asymptomatic positives (1.8% positivity rate). In addition, there were 8 symptomatic positives reported by the Earle Student Health Center. The Furman Focused Dashboard and Campus Operational Phases were updated yesterday, including the employee surveillance test results from last week (724 employees tested with 4 positives for a 0.6% positivity rate).
Campus Operational Phase
While the total number of positive cases on campus this past week were fewer than the previous week (in part due to testing 50% of on-campus students instead of 100%), the positivity rate is the highest it has been since we began surveillance testing last September. We have heard of some students going off campus to bars, while others are socializing with friends both on and off campus without distancing or wearing required face coverings. We cannot stress enough the importance of adhering to the Paladin Promise and “the COVID basics” – wearing face coverings, physical distancing and avoiding these types of high-risk venues and settings.
Due to the disease prevalence in Greenville and the higher positivity rate on campus, we will continue to operate in the Orange: High Precautions phase for the next week. All of the same guidance for this past week will apply for this next week, with one additional adjustment: To encourage more eating on campus, effective Sunday, the PalaDen Food Court will be open for indoor dining.
Quarantine and isolation spaces
Our ability to move toward the yellow and purple phases is contingent on maintaining low COVID prevalence rates and minimizing the use of our designated on-campus quarantine space, so please continue to limit your number of close contacts. Over the last three weeks, many students being quarantined and isolated reported needing to do so on campus, rather than adhering to their original plans to return home. We are doing everything possible to accommodate student and family needs, but as positivity rates increase, and more students request to isolate and quarantine on campus, our chances of moving to a lower phase decreases.
DHEC changes positivity rate calculation
On February 2, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control changed the methodology used to calculate the Percent Positivity Rate in South Carolina. At the same time, SC DHEC has provided an updated historical archive of the Percent Positivity Rate using the revised approach. While these numbers may be slightly different due to the modified methods, the values still reflect positivity rates that are very high, and the data indicate very significant rates of community disease.
We will continue with our COVID surveillance testing next week, randomly testing 50% of the student body, split between Monday and Wednesday. Selected students will receive instructions the day prior to testing. We will not conduct surveillance testing for employees next week.
Some students and employees are starting to report that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine and have questions about testing and quarantine. Neither of the two current vaccines is 100% effective and a large number of people who are fully vaccinated (estimated at 5-10% in clinical trials) may not develop immunity, according to early research. Moreover, it is not known yet whether those who have been vaccinated may still serve as effective carriers. Until more is known about the vaccines’ effectiveness, all of the same expectations and rules apply to students and employees who have been vaccinated. Our teams will continue to review and adjust our policies based on guidance from the CDC, SC DHEC and Prisma Health.
May X and summer planning
Now that we are a few weeks into the spring semester, the COVID Response Steering Committee is receiving questions about May Experience and summer courses, summer housing, summer research and internships, summer camps and conferences, new student orientation, and so on. A subcommittee is currently exploring these very questions, and we expect to have more information on our plans in 4-6 weeks. Thanks in advance for everyone’s patience.
Have a fun, safe weekend!
Ken Peterson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
Connie Carson, Vice President for Student Life
Co-Chairs, COVID Response Steering Committee