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UNR reports more than 300 COVID-19 cases since school started

Updated September 29, 2020 - 3:07 pm

A month into the fall semester, the University of Nevada, Reno has reported more than 300 COVID-19 cases and its president issued another message urging students to avoid large off-campus social gatherings.

The university has reported 304 cases since the fall semester began Aug. 24, according to its case tracking webpage. The latest information is from Friday. The vast majority of cases have been among students, with fewer than 20 affecting faculty and staff.

In a written message last week to students, faculty and staff, UNR President Marc Johnson said people affiliated with the university “need to be more discerning in their actions” and avoid large gatherings where attendees aren’t wearing face masks.

“To all of you: Thank you for realizing that your actions have a bearing on everyone,” he wrote. “Off-campus activity, however, continues to be a challenge. Although we have some positive cases in our residential communities, the vast majority of our cases continue to center on individuals who live off campus. The Washoe County Health District noted again that off-campus parties and social gatherings remain the Health District’s greatest concern related to the University’s number of positive cases. We must do better on this front.”

Health district officials weren’t immediately available to comment Monday.

It is the second message that Johnson has issued this month about case numbers and off-campus parties. The first was Sept. 3, just before Labor Day weekend. In that message, he wrote that students who engage in off-campus behavior that violates the university’s Student Code of Conduct will face disciplinary action.

Nevada colleges and universities are reporting COVID-19 case numbers on their websites, although it doesn’t mean those who tested positive contracted the virus while on campus.

UNR — which has about 20,700 students — has seen significantly higher COVID-19 case numbers than its Southern Nevada college and university counterparts, despite also holding the majority of classes with at least some remote learning component.

The Nevada System of Higher Education’s case tracking webpage shows a total of 510 COVID-19 cases among UNR students and 33 among employees since March 1. UNLV has reported 78 cases among students and 18 among employees during that same time period.

UNLV — which has about 30,000 students — is holding about 80 percent of its classes remotely. About 1,000 students are living in campus housing. The university has reported 34 cases — only four of those among employees and the rest students — since the fall semester began Aug. 24.

The College of Southern Nevada has reported 19 cases, and Nevada State College has reported seven.

In terms of UNR case numbers, “certainly, we’re watching the data closely,” Student Health Center director Dr. Cheryl Hug-English said Tuesday. That includes watching for any evidence of case clusters.

There are very few classes with in-person instruction this fall, she said, and most of the COVID-19 cases and exposures have been related to students who attended off-campus gatherings.

UNR has a maximum of 2.6 percent to 4 percent of its students on campus at any given time, Johnson wrote in his message. And it has about 2,400 students living on campus this semester.

About 30 students who live in residence halls are isolating after testing positive, Hug-English said. They’re checked on daily and food is delivered to them.

An additional 45 students living on campus are in quarantine since they’ve been identified as a close contact, such as if their roommate tested positive, she said.

The Student Health Center began offering COVID-19 testing in July when the first students returned to campus as part of the second summer session. In September, the university provided testing for about 1,162 students, and 51 faculty members and staff.

Testing is free by appointment only for students, faculty and staff who have symptoms or who have been identified as a contact of a confirmed case.

“We’re really trying to make it accessible and convenient,” Hug-English said.

In his written message, Johnson encouraged students who test positive to help expedite the contact tracing process by filling out the university’s online reporting form.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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