School Report Card: This week, college 'condemns' students exposing themselves to COVID-19 and a school president resigns after campus outbreak

Elise Solé
·10 mins read
The president of the State University of New York at Oneonta resigned on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/State University of New York at Oneonta)
The president of the State University of New York at Oneonta resigned on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/State University of New York at Oneonta)

Brigham Young University-Idaho seeks evidence of students exposing themselves to COVID-19 for cash

Brigham Young University’s campus in Rexburg, Idaho, a state with more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases, is gathering evidence on students allegedly contracting COVID-19 in order to sell their antibody-rich plasma. People who fully recover from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that could help others fighting the virus, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“BYU-Idaho is deeply troubled by accounts of individuals who have intentionally exposed themselves or others to COVID-19, with the hope of getting the disease and being paid for plasma that contains COVID-19 antibodies,” read a Monday memo from school officials. “The university condemns this behavior and is actively seeking evidence of any such conduct among our student body. Students who are determined to have intentionally exposed themselves or others to the virus will be immediately suspended from the university and may be permanently dismissed.”

The memo didn’t clarify how the school learned of the alleged behavior or provide further details — when asked for comment, a BYU-Idaho spokesperson directed Yahoo Life to its official statement. A spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tells Yahoo Life, “We have seen those news reports as well,” and deferred to Eastern Idaho Public Health. That agency’s public information officer Mimi Taylor tells Yahoo Life, “At this time, we have no evidence to support these claims that this is happening.”

However, the student-run newspaper, the Scroll, interviewed a female student who asked to remain anonymous and claimed that after she tested positive for COVID-19, others asked her how “they could also get the virus.”

“One guy asked me to make out, and I was like ‘I have COVID’ and he was like ‘oh, well I think I already had it so it’s fine, and if I didn’t then I’ll just make money,’” she said. “And then after I was out of quarantine, like the next few weeks I had people specifically ask to make out to see if they could get sick.”

A second student, who also asked to remain anonymous, told the Scroll that a peer who often donates plasma has been partying in order to test positive. “When he found out that you can get more money if you’ve already had COVID, he was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m definitely going to get it now,’” said the student.

In late September, the school, with an active case count of 128 among students and staff, threatened to move students to a virtual learning model if cases continued rising in Madison County, where the university is located. The county currently has 1,810 cases, according to Thursday data from Eastern Idaho Public Health.

According to the nonprofit newsroom the Center for Public Integrity, which has obtained White House coronavirus task force reports since July, Idaho was classified as a red-zone state in its Oct. 13 release. States with greater than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents during the previous week, explained the news site, are labeled red.

SUNY president resigns following school outbreak and shutdown of in-person classes

Barbara Jean Morris, the president of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oneonta, resigned on Thursday following a chaotic school year that, according to the New York Times, entailed criticism from the community because the school did not require students to test negative for COVID-19 before entering campus or starting classes. According to the school’s fall restart plan, while symptomatic students were required to get a PCR test, others “must attest” to not having COVID-19 symptoms.

“Dr. Barbara Jean Morris has transitioned from her position as president to pursue other opportunities,” the university tells Yahoo Life. Her temporary replacement is Dennis Craig, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. The university did not suggest that Morris’s departure was linked to a recent school outbreak.

SUNY Oneonta, at which 716 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the fall semester began on Aug. 24, has struggled to contain the virus. In late August, 105 new cases led officials to limit campus activity and start remote learning for two weeks, while five students and three campus organizations were suspended for partying.

That same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed a SWAT team of 71 contact tracers and eight case investigators to the school and opened three rapid testing centers in the city of Oneonta. Per state guidance, schools are required to teach online and limit campus activity for two weeks when 100 individuals test positive within a two-week period.

Related: SUNY Oneonta sending students home for semester amid rise in COVID cases

On Sept. 3, after nearly 400 students tested positive, the school instituted an off-campus learning plan, blaming the spread on “the actions of a few individuals who didn’t comply.” In a news release, the school said it would “issue full refunds on room and additional allowable refunds for dining” as it sent students home.

Then the school issued a “precautionary” two-week pause on in-person instruction and activities on Sept. 18 and discouraged students from leaving campus, due to a surge in cases the previous week.

“I think that we all recognize that this was a time where change was needed. It’s a time for a new start,” Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said, according to the New York Times. He added, “There had been some loss of trust here amongst both the college community and the city community. Trust is everything. Sometimes you need to make changes in order to rebuild trust.”

SUNY Oneonta is located in Otsego County. According to a Wednesday news release from the county’s department of health, of the 923 total confirmed cases there, 737 probable and confirmed cases are linked to the university.

Florida community memorializes school bus driver who died after testing positive for COVID-19

Gail Brusseau, 66, a bus driver for Clay County District Schools in Green Cove Springs, Fla., died on Oct. 9 after testing positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, her co-workers and husband decorated her school bus with flowers and signs.

“I love you, my sweetheart. I will always love you,” her husband, Bill, said in footage filmed by News 4 Jax.

According to Bill Brusseau, Gail tested positive for the virus about three weeks into the school year and was put on life support before her death. “She was taken from me because some people don’t seem to understand that this COVID thing can hit anybody,” Bill told the news station. “We are all in this together, and we are all in this together not just to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. That didn’t happen here, and that’s how she got it.”

A spokesperson for Clay County District Schools, which opened Aug. 25 with in-person and virtual lesson plans, sent a statement to Yahoo Life: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our employee, Gail Brusseau. We want to extend our sincere condolences to her family and friends. Gail was dedicated to Clay County District Schools working as a bus driver for more than 20 years. We are thankful for her service and will honor her legacy.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, the state has recorded more than 748,000 positive COVID-19 cases. Clay County District Schools, which did not start publishing data until September, had 18 positive cases among staff and students for the week of Oct. 5. There are currently 245 students in quarantine, according to the district’s website.

In its Smart Restart plan, the district mandates that bus drivers and monitors wear face masks on the bus; the same applies to students in grades 3 to 12. Coverings are “highly recommended” for children in kindergarten through second grade. Upon entering and exiting the bus, students are offered hand sanitizer, and they sit in assigned seats. “When feasible,” three windows on each side of the bus must remain open, and vehicles are sanitized after each morning and afternoon route. In the evenings, vehicles are cleaned with an electrostatic sprayer.

Last month, Polk County, Fla., bus drivers, who spoke to the Daily Beast using pseudonyms, said they’ve battled students who refused to wear masks, as well as their district for not communicating about positive cases. And in August, drivers described to Yahoo Life the challenges of enforcing masks and creating safe seating charts.

8 school districts in Texas enroll in rapid testing program

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 Rapid Testing Pilot Program for eight school systems to help curb the coronavirus. There are currently more than 809,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the state, according to Thursday data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There are two ways to test for COVID-19, according to the FDA — rapid antigen testing, which detects antigens (proteins on the surface of the virus), and a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which detects a virus’s genetic material.

The COVID-19 Rapid Testing Pilot Program, which can produce results in 15 minutes, is available for district employees and students (with parental permission). Public and private schools have until Oct. 28 to apply for the program through the Texas Education Agency.

“As more students return to campus for in-person instruction, the State of Texas is working alongside school officials to provide resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff,” Abbott said in a press release. “Thank you to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for providing these advanced antigen tests to the State of Texas. This rapid testing pilot program will be an effective strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff while helping to further ensure that Texas students have access to a quality education throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency tells Yahoo Life, “While the school testing program will be open to all school systems, the state identified schools focused on bringing students back into the classroom environment who also represent a wide range of demographics (e.g. traditional public schools in rural and urban Texas, a charter school, a private school, etc.) and were willing and able to participate in the pilot program.”

Veronica Vijil, the superintendent of the Fabens Independent School District, which is participating in the program, tells Yahoo Life that El Paso County, where the rural district of about 2,000 students is located, has experienced a surge in positive COVID-19 cases (the county has almost 30,000 cases). This week, Abbott sent 75 medical professionals to the county, the Associated Press reported, as cases rose to 6,000 on Monday, a steep increase from 4,000 on Oct. 1.

Fabens ISD has recorded a total of 21 cases among staff and students since opening for in-person and remote instruction. “We are thankful to be selected for this COVID-19 rapid testing pilot program,” Vijil tells Yahoo Life.

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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