By Al Hackle, Statesboro Herald
Georgia Southern University saw 508 COVID-19 cases reported among students and university employees the second week of fall semester, including 129 “university-confirmed” cases and 379 “self-reported” cases.
Those are the seven-day totals from Aug. 24 through Aug. 30 included on the university’s “COVID-19 Exposure and Health Alerts” page at www.georgiasouthern.edu/covid-19-information/exposure-health. Unlike the report from the first week of school, Aug. 17-23, when an overall total of 71 cases was included on the spreadsheet, adding together 33 university-confirmed and 38 self-reported cases, Monday’s update kept those two categories separate.
However, the Statesboro Herald obtained assurance from GS Director of Communications Jennifer Wise that the university-confirmed and self-reported cases should not overlap. In other words, there is no process for self-reported cases to become university-confirmed.
“There should not be any overlap between confirmed and self-reported,” Wise emailed. “We do not require additional testing for those who self-report a positive test result.”
So the newspaper is combining the two categories for a total of 508 reported cases and noting that 487 of those were from Georgia Southern’s Statesboro campus, while only 21 were reported on the Armstrong campus in Savannah and none at the Liberty campus in Hinesville.
Most in Statesboro
The university also took note of the concentration of cases occurring here.
“As an institution of nearly 27,000 students and 3,350 employees, positive reports represent a very small proportion of our overall university population,” Georgia Southern asserts in a paragraph above the case count spreadsheet. “These cases are primarily concentrated within the student population on the Statesboro campus.”
University-wide, 15 of individuals reported to have COVID-19 were employees. The other 493 were students.
Last week’s 508 reported cases and the previous week’s 71 reported cases add up to 579 cases in 14 days. That would be a little less than 2% of the university population – including students, faculty and staff – of apparently almost 30,350.
But these are all recently reported cases, and 579 cases among 30,350 people corresponds to about 1,900 cases per 100,000 population in two weeks. That is 19 times the 100 cases per 100,000 population that state and local officials originally stated as the threshold for community spread of the disease.
In relation to the estimated Georgia Southern student and employee count, the two weeks’ 162 university-confirmed cases alone would correspond to more than 500 cases per 100,000 population.
The concentration of reported cases among the Statesboro campus population would also be higher than that suggests, since portions of the overall student, staff and faculty populations are at the other campuses and online.
Compared to Bulloch
Meanwhile, the 14-day rate of new cases in Bulloch County, home of the Statesboro campus, was the equivalent of 735 cases per 100,000 people, as reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health, or DPH, in its Monday daily status report.
The county has seen its biggest surge in new cases in the two weeks since Georgia Southern resumed in-person classes for the first time since March. Georgia DPH’s reports show that the largest number of cases by age bracket, statewide, is among 18- to 29-year-olds, although hospitalization and death rates remain lower among this age group that among older people.
“Georgia Southern diligently tracks and reports both university confirmed and self-reported cases to ensure timely contact notification and to mitigate the spread of the virus amongst our population,” the university declares in its statement above this week’s report. “This report should not be compared to other institutions that report only confirmed positive cases.”
But what Georgia Southern means by “university confirmed” cases appears to differ from what some other institutions mean by “confirmed” cases.
Explanatory notes on Georgia Southern’s report page define “university confirmed” as “”the number of positive results that have come back from tests ordered by Athletics or by University Health Services” and “self-reported” as “calls or forms submitted to CARES Center from individuals who claimed to have received a positive COVID-19 test result.”
CARES is the acronym of the university’s COVID-19 Answers, Resources, Evaluation and Self-reporting Center.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s COVID-19 Exposure page, which gives daily rather than weekly totals for that Atlanta-based institution, showed 64 newly confirmed cases reported Sunday and a total of 705 confirmed cases since March. After defining a confirmed case as “a person who has tested positive for 2019 novel coronavirus,” it notes that “the page includes positive results from multiple sources.”
East Georgia and OTC
In the Statesboro area, both East Georgia State College and Ogeechee Technical College have also reported some COVID-19 cases. EGSC’s online spreadsheet shows self-reported cases only, with 18 students and no employees reporting cases last week after two employees and no students self-reported the week before. Ten of the student cases and no employee cases were on the Statesboro campus, one case at the Augusta campus and the rest at the Swainsboro campus.
Ogeechee Tech is also listing only self-reported cases, and showed four students and one employee reporting positive COVID-19 tests last week and none the week before, all at the Bulloch County main campus.
Frats and sororities pause
With a press release Monday, Georgia Southern announced that its fraternity and sorority life councils all voted last week to refrain from hosting social events and moved all organizational meetings and events to virtual formats through Oct. 1.
Asked if any other new precautionary changes are being made, Wise noted this statement from the COVID-19 Exposure webpage: “Proactively, we are reminding students to exercise responsibility both on and off campus – to wear face-coverings, remain socially distant from others, and wash their hands frequently. We applaud our student groups who have stepped up to support these efforts and to encourage responsibility within their social networks.”