Fall in Athens

Autumn has arrived on Ohio University’s campus. Photo by Ben Peters.

Less than two weeks into Ohio University’s second phase of reopening, the Athens City-County Health Department ordered Boyd Hall to be vacated after 19 of its 94 residents tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Those who tested positive for the virus were immediately relocated to residence halls where they will be isolated, a university spokesperson confirmed with The Athens NEWS. The other 78 students were considered close contacts under the definition provided by the state based on their shared living space and “typical shared activities” and were relocated to separate dorms where they will be quarantined until Oct. 21, according to a press release from the university.

The spokesperson wasn’t able to specify which residence halls the students were relocated to because of privacy laws, but she indicated that several were put to use. A Boyd resident who did not test positive told The NEWS they were relocated to Adams Hall on OU’s South Green.

Meals and other resources will be provided to the students for the duration of their quarantine and the university is coordinating with professors to ensure coursework can be completed remotely, the release said.

“Our students’ safety, and that of our community, is paramount in every discussion and decision that we make,” OU President Duane Nellis said in a statement. “We have planned for this potential situation. And while we wish that no one is put in this situation, we are acting swiftly to get our students who are impacted by the health order into appropriate spaces and limit the chance that other students in the residence hall would contract the virus and unintentionally spread it to others.”

The cluster of positive cases in Boyd was detected early in part through what Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to Nellis for public health operations and a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member, has called “wide-net” asymptomatic testing, which involves testing multiple students living in the same residence hall after a few positive cases were discovered within the dorm. The Boyd cluster is the first known incidence of a significant outbreak within an OU residence hall. More than 1,000 students moved into dorms within the past two weeks as part of the university’s second phase of reopening. And thousands more likely moved into their off-campus residences, if they had not already done so for phase 1.

Cases in the county have continued to rise on average since the start of fall semester in late August.

Ice recently said that the increase in cases within the county is largely driven by the activities of students who live off-campus. She told the OU Board of Trustees on Friday that her team suspects between seven to 10 thousand total students are currently living in Athens based on conversations with landlords and records of those who logged onto the university’s network since August.

They also believe based on anecdotal evidence that students are frequently traveling between Athens and their hometowns across the state, which could further precipitate spread.

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