University of Delaware officials on Friday once again sounded the alarm about a growing COVID-19 outbreak that could result in even stricter rules for students if the situation doesn’t improve quickly.
“We are at a decisive moment in our fight against COVID-19 at the University of Delaware,” officials wrote in an unsigned letter to students. “With the high number of positive cases in the first two weeks of this semester, we are on track to quickly exceed the number in the entire fall semester.”
So far this week, there have been 300 cases reported on campus. During the fall semester, there were approximately 900 cases.
The spike in cases is directly tied to the behavior of students in dining halls, off-campus housing and local bars and restaurants, officials said.
Unless an improvement happens in the next few days, all classes will be moved online, students will be restricted to their dorms except for “essential activities,” most students living off-campus will be prohibited from coming on UD property, access to the student centers and campus gym will be restricted, and athletic practices and games will be suspended.
“To help avoid these additional restrictions, we must all work together now,” officials wrote in the letter.
The letter comes just two days after the university imposed the first round of stricter rules, including making dining halls take-out only, banning guests in dorms and reducing capacity at the campus gym.
Meanwhile, the Newark Police Department is working with UD Police to increase enforcement of the city’s social gathering ordinance, which restricts gatherings to 10 people indoors or 20 outdoors. Police are also doing proactive patrols to address large groups of people walking around Newark.
Students who violate the ordinance face fines, community service and possible suspension from the university. Since the fall, UD has sanctioned more than 450 students for breaking various COVID-19 rules.
“Students are encouraged to limit their activities this weekend. Students should not mingle outside of their ‘household’ units, should not host large gatherings and should use takeout when dining at local restaurants,” officials wrote in Friday’s letter.
The spring semester began Feb. 15 as UD officials aimed to met the goal they set months ago – a broader reopening of the campus than was possible in the fall.
This spring, approximately 3,800 students are living in the dorms, which is 60 percent of normal occupancy but approximately triple the number from the fall, according to Caitlin Olsen, UD’s director of government relations. All rooms are single-occupancy.
There are likely also several thousand students living in off-campus apartments throughout Newark, but UD doesn’t release statistics on that.
UD is also offering more face-to-face classes this spring. Many courses employ a hybrid model, with some portions held virtually and other parts held in-person
This semester, 18 percent of courses feature an in-person component, up from 9 percent in the fall. However, those that are in-person will look different than usual.
“Many of you know or have seen our large, 400-person lecture halls. Envision that, but with only 50 people in the space,” Olsen said earlier this month. “We want to make sure that everyone is spread out according to the current recommendations from the CDC and our local officials.”
In conjunction with the broader reopening of campus, UD also significantly ramped up its coronavirus testing program and plans to test 6,000 students and employees each week, more than double the amount in the fall.
Under a new policy, all students living on campus are mandated to be tested once a week, and those who don’t comply could face sanctions. Students living off-campus are encouraged to get tested weekly and will be randomly chosen for mandatory testing.
In the fall, UD encouraged weekly testing but stopped short of requiring it because of questions regarding the legality of mandatory testing, according to the campus medical director. This semester, the testing mandate is part of the housing contract that all students sign in order to live in the dorms.