As classes kicked off for the second week on the Plains, Auburn University officials continued to express concern with rising Covid-19 numbers sweeping Auburn’s campus.
For the second weekend since classes began Aug, 17, students packed downtown bars and off-campus events during a time where virtual learning has been put in place as a part of the university's A Healthier U initiative to protect students from further exposure. More than 500 students have tested positive since the outbreak began in March, with an additional five university employees joining the number of confirmed cases this past week in addition to 202 new cases among students.
According to Dr. Fred Kam, Auburn University Medical Clinic Director, the numbers are not as surprising as they may seem.
“When we had over 20,000 students return to the Auburn community area, it was expected that we were going to see a few hundred positives,” Kam said. “Because again, when you figure that more than 40 percent of people are asymptomatic, it was expected that, with the degree of testing that we were going to do, we are going to see positives.”
“That's exactly what we thought. It is no surprise by any means.”
Kam also mentioned that the majority of students who tested positive did not attend in-person classes.
“As of this morning, our quarantine or isolation dorms have not reached more than half capacity,” said Kam on Monday. “We have an additional reserve dorm that we can use for either isolation or quarantine, or both.”
“That also exists and we have not had the need to activate that third dorm at all.”
In a news release provided by East Alabama Medical Center, officials stated that Auburn University positivity rate, which varied from 5 to 10 percent during the summer sessions, has since jumped to 24.1 percent. 901 people were tested in the last week at the clinic and, of the 901, 217 tested positive — 200 of which were Auburn students.
“Our challenge right now is for each person to educate themselves on what they need to know, what they should be doing and then holding themselves and those around them accountable for wearing masks,” Kam said. “Physically social distancing and frequently sanitizing their hands.”
“Our strategy is simple: test, isolate, trace, quarantine and educate.”
Last week, the university took the step of requiring the wearing of masks outdoors on campus in addition to inside buildings. Auburn also requires students to complete a self-screening every day for Covid symptoms before coming to campus.
Auburn University president Jay Gouge and Tuskegee University president Lily D. McNair are urging students to be responsible, respectful and resourceful during this era where social distancing is important to community health.
In a statement released Aug. 24, both university presidents express deep concern for the impact of Covid-19 and push students to enact an honor code system to protect their communities.
“Be responsible for your role in fostering a healthy environment. Be respectful of the concerns and needs of others. Be resourceful in creating safer interactions with your peers.”
Both schools remind students that they are being held to high standards and ask for accountability to be held throughout the school year.
Auburn Mayor Ron Anders also addressed students in a video released last week, reminding them to wear face coverings both inside and outside, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and isolate themselves when sick.
"It's good to have you back in the city of Auburn," said Anders. "Our businesses are ready to serve you. There are a few ground rules we all have to follow so that we can stay open and you can stay on campus."
In response to the rising number of Covid cases among students and reports of students packing downtown bars, the university released a statement on Monday saying it would conduct an investigation to determine next steps.
"Auburn's Code of Student Conduct pertains to students on campus and situationally off campus. The code speaks to the utmost importance of the health, safety and welfare of students and can be applied to a student's or organization's behavior involving health and safety wherever it occurs," the statement said. "The code notes that students should alert appropriate officials of any substantial information that a student's or student organization's presence on campus is potentially dangerous to the health of the university community."
Bobby Woodard, senior vice president for Student Affairs at Auburn University, said in a statement released Aug. 25, that Covid is truly a situation in which every individual’s actions counts. In the statement, Woodard announced that all in-person gatherings will now be limited to no more than 50 people, effective Aug, 24 through Oct. 10.
“We understand that this is not the college experience any of us anticipated,” Woodard said. “But every generation faces challenges, whether a draft, social unrest, economic hardship or pandemic.
“We must rise to the occasion and encourage our peers to be vigilant in doing our part for the common good. This will not be forever.”