MAYVILLE, N.D. – Mayville State President Brian Van Horn says the university is not facing a crisis situation as the small eastern North Dakota campus this week deals with a surge in coronavirus cases.
“We don't have a crisis,” Van Horn told the Herald Monday, Nov. 2. “We have some people that have positive tests, but we're handling those in a very safe way and actually following what our emergency management processes were to begin with.”
Over the weekend, Mayville State sent out a number of messages to students, faculty and staff regarding the surge in COVID-19 cases, including that students who tested positive for the virus would be staying in the campus wellness center and that instruction would be moved to online-only for the rest of this week.
The decision to house COVID-positive students in the wellness center did not come lightly, Van Horn said. The city of Mayville – with a population of about 1,800 – only has one open hotel. When university officials reached out about potentially using rooms there, there was only one room available for a few days.
“The challenge we have in Mayville, N.D., is we don't have any chain hotels, or any additional room spaces in which we can isolate and quarantine students,” Van Horn said. “... That's why we went to really what would be plan E or F, and that is finding a good, safe place to keep people.”
Campus leadership also checked to see if there were any houses to rent as quarantine sites, but the university felt the safest option is the wellness center, Van Horn said. The wellness center will have a study room, television and a weight room for students who have tested positive, he said.
“We honestly think this is a better option than some of the other options. It’s just the optics of it look differently, so people obviously question whether there's a crisis,” Van Horn said.
There are 15 people staying in the wellness center gymnasium, Mayville State director of marketing and public relations Beth Swenson said in an email. For the most part, the people there are not experiencing symptoms.
Sunday, a campus letter asked students to “stay in place” for the next week, only leaving campus minimally and not coming and going from the campus.
“The attempt is to try to get by that time period to protect people to where we don't have further spread, or great further spread,” Van Horn said of the decision.
The campus dashboard shows there are 24 on-campus residents who have tested positive for the virus, plus an additional 18 students who live off campus and 13 MSU employees, as of Monday morning. The campus has a total of 58 close contacts.
The new cases were found during a testing event Oct. 27. Van Horn said the university asked the state to hold a testing event after hearing about more students having symptoms.
“It's just the nature of the weather's gotten colder, there's more indoor type of events, whether it's through the university or somewhere else, and because of that we found more positivity, which we thought,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn said most, but not all, of the positive results are tied to the university’s athletics programs; citing privacy reasons, he declined to name specific teams. The university’s football team announced late last week that two of its games would be canceled due to COVID-19 cases. Athletes are required to participate in testing when it’s available, though the testing events haven’t been weekly, Van Horn said.
“There's not been a ‘superspreader’ type of event,” Van Horn said. “There are people from all different aspects that live in different communities and all over the region that have tested positive.”
Van Horn says he believes most of the cases were likely transmitted off campus, as he says students and the campus community have been wearing masks and social distancing when on campus. People may have “COVID fatigue,” Van Horn said and are doing more traveling than they were before or meeting in groups of around 10, rather than a handful of people, thereby increasing their chance of contracting the virus.
“I think this is just a microcosm of what society is right now, as a whole,” Van Horn said.
University officials are working with the state health department to put together another testing event this week, but as of Monday morning nothing had been finalized, Van Horn said. The goal would be to test most of the campus if the event does occur. Additionally, the university wants to have testing following Thanksgiving break.
Traill County has 118 active cases of COVID-19, as of Monday. The county has seen a steep increase in cases this week. On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the county reported 57 active positives.