There have been zero known hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 among North Dakota University System students, according to education leaders during a State Board of Higher Education meeting on Thursday, Oct. 29.

As of Oct. 27, the system has had around 2,500 positive test results among students. There have been around 2,200 recoveries, according to system data, and zero hospitalizations and deaths. Across the system, there are about 300 active cases, including 108 at UND and 131 at North Dakota State University.

The data was presented by Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND medical school and head of the university system’s COVID-19 taskforce, as a part of the regular State Board of Higher Education meeting.

Other data presented included information about average positivity rates from the beginning of the school year at the end of August to this week. The first two weeks of the campus returns showed a higher positivity rate among university system institutions. However, in recent weeks, those numbers have flipped with a higher positivity across the state of North Dakota compared to the university system schools.

On Aug. 26, the system had a 4.52% positivity rate, while the state had a 3.89% positivity rate. On Sept. 9, the system positivity rate had increased to 9.03% compared to 5.59% in the state. But by October, those numbers began to shift with a 4.24% positivity rate reported by the system on Oct. 7 and 7.47% rate across the state as a whole. This week’s numbers show a 8.76% positivity rate at the university system and an 11.06% positivity rate in the state.

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Graphic by Sydney Mook
Graphic by Sydney Mook

Wynne said the change is likely indicative of community spread of the virus.

“I think this sustains exactly what we expected,” Wynne told the board. “Initially, we did have an increase in cases, likely due to students returning to campus from their local communities, but now there is community spread going on."

Wynne said that increased community spread may be related to small gatherings.

In recent weeks, White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has said that outbreaks in the northeast United States may be being fueled by small gatherings among friends and family who are likely asymptomatic, The Boston Globe reported.

“Small gatherings are now a driver of what's going on around the country, and we presume around here,” Wynne said.

He said there is “real concern” about larger gatherings of extended family and friends at Thanksgiving.

“That could be problematic from the standpoint of this pandemic,” he said.

Other additional measures that may help the university system with its COVID numbers include enhanced contact tracing and testing. Schools, like UND, that have hired their own sets of contact tracers that may be able to help other universities and colleges, Wynne said.

A little less than 40% of the student body has been tested at least once for the virus, a number that Wynne said he would like to see match other university systems. Enhanced testing could be a “major player” in keeping the campuses open and vibrant, he said.

“I would point out that many, or at least a number of, other university systems do far more testing, where they're testing once or twice a week and getting essentially complete compliance with that,” he said.

The university system’s COVID taskforce will discuss ways to enhance testing at its next meeting, he said.