School Report Card: Utah mandates weekly COVID-19 testing for college students and Missouri loosens school quarantine rules

Elise Solé
·10 min read
Nov 7, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Fans storm the field after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Clemson Tigers 47-40 in two overtimes. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Students attending a Nov. 7 football game between the University of Notre Dame and Clemson University rushed the field in celebration at Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana. (Matt Cashore/USA Today)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Utah mandates college and university students to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing

On Sunday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency (effective Nov. 9 to Nov. 23) in the state to address hospital overcrowding as “the number of [COVID-19] infections ... [grows] at an alarming rate.” The order includes a statewide public mask mandate (with fines for businesses that don’t enforce it), a household-only limitation on social gatherings, a ban on youth and high school extracurricular activities and weekly COVID-19 testing for students enrolled in public and private educational institutions.

“Our data shows that individuals aged 15 to 24 have not been careful in their casual social gatherings and that the highest rates of spread are now occurring among this age group,” Herbert said in a recorded announcement.

The targeted testing program is for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals and, eventually, high school students involved in extracurricular activities; workplace employees under the age of 35; and high school teachers. “We must do more and we must do it now,” said Herbert. “There is no legislation or executive order that can mandate civility, respect and basic consideration for others. ... This is about personal responsibility.”

The testing mandate, which is specific to college students who live on campus or who attend at least one in-person class per week, comes after White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited Salt Lake City (whose county has 59,493 confirmed COVID-19 cases) and urged required weekly testing for teachers and students. Birx told station KUTV that the federal government had given Utah 200,000 BinaxNOW tests, which produce results in 10 minutes.

Following the announcement, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Brigham Young University in Provo kick-started the new state testing policies.

On Friday, there were 143,639 positive COVID-19 cases and 6,487 hospitalizations in Utah, according to the state department of health.

University of Notre Dame tightens COVID-19 testing after celebrating football fans storm the field

After Notre Dame’s football team defeated Clemson on Nov. 7, excited spectators rushed the field in South Bend, Ind., prompting disapproval from the state health department and a plea for students to wear face masks and social distance.

As previously reported by the New York Times, after Notre Dame’s 47-40 victory, thousands of students jumped over barriers and onto the field, “gleefully mobbing” football players for 15 minutes, despite orders to disperse. The scene made Mark D. Fox, the deputy health officer of the St. Joseph County (Ind.) Department of Health, “sick to my stomach.” As he further told the Times, “I felt really ineffective as a public health person. I felt like I was wringing my hands and asking the woulda, shoulda, coulda questions, and that’s an uncomfortable place to be.”

Footage of the incident was captured by NBC and showed some students not wearing masks and hugging each other.

On Sunday, referring only to the “exciting” game, the university told students, “Unfortunately, we were disappointed to learn about several large off-campus gatherings that occurred Friday and Saturday evenings,” and shared safety rules implemented both before and after the game.

Effective Thursday, the school is mandating coronavirus testing for students (except for those who have tested positive in the past 90 days or who study remotely) before they leave for Thanksgiving break. Students who skip testing or leave the South Bend area before receiving their results will have registration holds on their records, preventing them from attending classes next semester.

“We are aware of rumors circulating that we will simply send all students home; this is not true,” said the school. “Sending students home without first conducting exit testing would be irresponsible. Furthermore, transitioning to online instruction for the final four days of the semester and for final exams would be unnecessarily disruptive for students and faculty, especially since there is no evidence of classroom virus transmission.” Officials also promised “severe sanctions” for people who attend gatherings that break safety rules.

A university spokesperson tells Yahoo Life that students were not disciplined for storming the field on Saturday, or for recent gatherings. “Students who attended the game had tested negative during the week,” said the spokesperson. “Fans have been required all season to wear masks and to socially distance during games. ... Of the 11,011 fans in attendance [in a 78,000-seat stadium], about 80 percent were students.”

Fox tells Yahoo Life that storming the field “wasn’t on our recommended list of best practices,” adding, “In St. Joseph County, we have a public health order requiring masks in enclosed businesses or enclosed public spaces, so [that] would not apply to the field situation.”

Notre Dame Stadium requires fans to wear face masks (without medical exceptions) and socially distance. On Nov. 7, says Fox, approximately 11,000 people were in the stadium, which had capped seating at 20 percent capacity. Aside from students, he says, only families of players on both teams were permitted to attend.

Despite the Nov. 7 field rush, Fox says “mask compliance in the stadium has been phenomenal throughout the season, and my sense is that the vast majority of students were still wearing masks in the midst of the on-field celebration.”

Last month, the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, tested positive for the coronavirus after going to a White House ceremony where President Trump formally nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. “I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden,” Jenkins told students in a statement. “I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so.”

Indiana has recorded 230,965 positive COVID-19 cases, with 13,147 in St. Joseph County, according to Thursday data from the state department of health.

Missouri governor allows students exposed to COVID-19 to skip quarantine if masks are worn

On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced new rules for school quarantines: If individuals are determined to be a “close contact” of someone infected with COVID-19 (spending at least 15 minutes of time within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19), they don’t necessarily have to quarantine.

These are the new rules: If all parties — the infected individual and those exposed — wore masks during the encounter, the infected person must isolate, while the exposed individuals can self-monitor their symptoms without quarantining. However, if the infected individual was not wearing a mask during the encounter but others were, he or she will have to isolate while the others quarantine. If no one was masked during the contact, the infected individual will isolate while the others quarantine.

This week, the CDC updated its mask guidance stating that face masks protect the general public and “also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer.” The group recommended that multilayer masks and surgical masks are most effective in protecting against COVID-19.

“Close contacts in K-12 schools should continue to quarantine at home for 14 days if (1) their school does not require students and staff to wear masks, or (2) the mask was not being worn appropriately by either the person diagnosed with COVID-19 or the person who was exposed,” read a press release from the governor’s office.

Dr. Rachel Orscheln, an associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, added, “Given the high rates of COVID-19 in our communities, it is inevitable that some children and adolescents will test positive. We also know that some of these children will likely, at some point in their illness, be at school. However, we have learned that in schools where students and staff are always wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, this virus does not spread as easily as it does in other places where these strategies are not always used.”

There were 229,376 positive COVID-19 cases in the state as of Friday morning, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Florida schools transition to online learning as Tropical Storm Eta causes flooding and power outages

This week, as the National Hurricane Center declared Tropical Storm Eta a Category 1 hurricane (it was later reduced to a tropical storm), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency order to 21 counties and requested federal resources. In early November, Eta blew through Nicaragua, Honduras and the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Florida.

Some K-12 schools in the state leaned more on virtual learning during the storm. Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa held online classes Thursday and Friday and opened five of its schools as shelters for displaced community members, including those who live in mobile homes and out-of-state evacuees.

“At the beginning of the year, we began school on an all-online platform due to COVID, so this was a natural transition in a situation where it will be safer for students and teachers to be at home,” a district spokesperson tells Yahoo Life. “In years past, we have canceled school altogether because we generally have hurricane days built into our calendar. However, we started later this year due to COVID, which gives us less flexibility to make up missed days. We have new online learning platforms this year due to COVID.”

The district began online classes on Aug. 24 and in-person classes on Aug. 31. Since in-person classes began, 1,163 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported in the district, of which 419 were employees and 744 were students, according to Hillsborough County Public Schools data.

Currently, 122,332 students are currently taking in-person classes, 94,919 have opted for e-learning (in which teachers work from physical classrooms) and approximately 5,200 are in virtual courses, in which they receive assignments at the start of the semester and work at their own pace.

The school district of Manatee County also opened two of its schools as storm shelters this week. District spokesperson Michael Barber tells Yahoo Life that students were not scheduled to attend school on Wednesday because it was closed for Veterans Day; however, remote learning substituted for in-person classes on Thursday and students returned on Friday, as the school had only minor damage.

“When the pandemic hit, we closed schools and put 50,000 students on e-learning,” Barber says. “That gave us great practice. The bottom line is, we can continue using e-learning, even during a situation like this.” The Manatee school district has recorded 221 positive COVID-19 cases since the first day of school on Aug. 17. The county itself has 14,480 COVID-19 cases.

The same virtual platforms introduced during the pandemic have value amid other weather-related emergencies across the U.S. Some districts in the country have canceled snow days in favor of remote teaching, while others have kept them to honor, in one case, some childhood “magic.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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