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After 40 students test positive for COVID-19, BYU urges caution on Labor Day weekend

“Behavior this weekend could make or break our ability to remain on campus,” says university’s official Twitter account

SHARE After 40 students test positive for COVID-19, BYU urges caution on Labor Day weekend
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BYU professor Rick Gill and his honors Biology 221 students wear masks and follow physical distancing guidelines on the first day of classes for the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

Ryan Campbell, BYU

PROVO — After 40 students reported positive COVID-19 tests through the first four days of school, BYU officials are asking the student body to be responsible over the long Labor Day weekend.

“We currently have 40 cases of COVID-19 reported in our campus community. Many of these have been tied to gatherings both on-campus and off-campus,” said a statement issued on BYU’s official Twitter account. “We again encourage you to avoid non-compliant gatherings, wear masks and stay distanced.”

The statement urged students to follow school and local health guidelines during Labor Day weekend to avoid a shutdown of campus classes.

“As we move into this long weekend, please be wise and follow all safety requirements on campus, and follow all city and county mandates off campus,” the statement said. “Please compassionately encourage your friends and roommates to do the same.”

One event apparently accounted for the need to quarantine two dozen students, the statement said, though it didn’t say what the event was.

“We have 24 students in Helaman Halls who were exposed to COVID-19 at a gathering where physical distancing wasn’t maintained,” the BYU statement said. “These students were instructed to quarantine. We’ll continue to ask students to quarantine if they attend gatherings where they may have been exposed.”

BYU does not require face masks in private living spaces on campus, but they are required in open, common areas.

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Jenet Jacob Erikson wears a mask as she teaches physically distanced BYU students during a religion course on the first day of classes for the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

Alyssa Dahneke, BYU

BYU’s cases, which come from student self-reporting, increased from one on Tuesday to 11 on Wednesday and 40 on Thursday.

Utah County had 200 new reports of positive tests on Thursday. That is highest count in a single day since the pandemic began. The county’s previous high was 196 cases, which happened twice in July. Utah County now has surpassed Salt Lake Country for the most new cases in Utah.

Overall, Utah County has had 50 deaths and 514 hospitalizations among a total of 11,525 total cases, according to the county health department’s dashboard.

BYU implemented a broad array of measures to ensure the safety of students and faculty, including requiring daily check-ins and masks on campus. However, the rise of infections among students is threatening the school’s ability to maintain its plan to provide a hybrid schedule for fall semester that alternates between in-class and online instruction until Thanksgiving, after which all classes will move online for the rest of the semester.

“We’re encouraged so many are following requirements on campus,” the BYU statement said. “However, we’re concerned (with) reports & videos circulating about off-campus activities. Behavior this weekend could make or break our ability to remain on campus.”

BYU is putting students with positive tests in isolation. Those who live on campus can move to dorms set aside for isolation or go to the school’s Aspen Grove site above Sundance in Provo Canyon, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in an email. Some students have chosen to go home to quarantine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and many states have asked schools not to send home students who test positive. College campuses have seen at least 26,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

“It’s the worst thing you can do,” Fauci said. “Keep them at the university in a place that’s sequestered enough from the other students.”

BYU officials said they do not have a threshold number of cases at which they automatically would shut down classes on campus and move to online-only instruction. Instead, they said they will weigh multiple factors, include the spread of the virus on and off campus, the capacity of local hospitals and the university’s ability to isolate or quarantine infected students living on campus.

BYU has had 243 total COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

The university confirmed 21 infections during the winter semester, which was interrupted March 12 after the pandemic was declared and was completed through online-only instruction. The first positive test for a BYU student was announced March 23. That student had lived off campus and returned home.

Another 16 students tested positive during the spring term while 166 tested positive during the summer term.

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BYU students wear masks as they walk on campus on the first day of fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

Tyler Richardson, BYU

BYU is conducting randomized testing on students and employees.

All BYU students, faculty and staff were required to complete safety training and download and use the Healthy Together App by Monday, which was the first day of classes, though one student who has tested positive told the Deseret News that some did not. The app does not track a student’s or employee’s location but it does track proximity to other users of the app to help with contact tracing.

Every day, each BYU student is supposed to obtain a daily campus passport through the Healthy Together app to attend campus classes. The passport requires students to complete a daily checkup questionnaire and professors are authorized to verify they have completed it.

Supervisors are authorized to check that employees have completed the checkup, too.

BYU also has used atriums and conference rooms as classrooms for the first time, to enhance physical distancing. It also moved smaller classes into large classrooms, Jenkins said.

Students also have used sanitary wipes to clean armrests and desk surfaces in their classrooms.

Friday’s statement said BYU is reviewing reports of noncompliant students through the Dean of Students Office.

It also said, “We condemn any kind of shaming or bullying surrounding compliance or noncompliance. Let’s work through this together, with compassion. We can still maintain an on-campus experience, if we can all do our part.”

Some BYU students, faculty and staff have taken to social media to express frustration about photos and videos showing large groups of students playing sports, going to dances off campus or hanging out without masks or distancing at other activities. They are concerned that some of the 70,000 students who have flooded into the county to start school over the past two weeks at BYU and Utah Valley University may have brought the virus with them.

“I think it’s inevitable some students are going to want to socialize and meet people,” said the student who tested positive and spoke to the Deseret News. “The large gatherings that have happened are private and put on by students.”

Two dance clubs were scheduled to hold large events in Provo on Friday night. Both dances are advertised as requiring masks. Provo instituted a mask mandate in the city on Aug. 27. People who violate the ordinance face a maximum $55 citation. Organizers of large public gatherings that do not require masks can be fined $500.

The parent of one BYU student tweeted this week that her daughter, a freshman who tested positive Thursday, said other students with positive tests said they attended a dance club event in Provo last weekend. The freshman believed her infection came from a student who went to the dance.

Some schools, like the University of North Carolina, have already shut down after outbreaks in their student body. Other Utah schools are facing similar challenges.

Utah State University in Logan listed 13 new self-reported student cases of COVID-19 Friday, doubling its total to 26 for the fall semester, which began Monday.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City has had 86 self-reported cases between Aug. 27 and Thursday, according to its website.

Orem’s Utah Valley University, which began classes on Aug. 24, has had 69 student cases, including 30 in the past seven days.

Despite facing significant pandemic-related financial losses, BYU and the other universities and colleges owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned down more than $54.1 million in federal stimulus funding via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Instead, BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii and Ensign College have used private funds to help students who have suffered pandemic-related financial issues.

Coronavirus testing is available for students and employees at the BYU Student Health Center.

Utah County’s COVID-19 recent cases by date of reported positive test:

Aug. 17....... 78

Aug. 18....... 105

Aug. 19....... 111

Aug. 20...... 150

Aug. 21....... 91

Aug. 22...... 79

Aug. 23...... 65

Aug. 24...... 127 (UVU classes began)

Aug. 25...... 118

Aug. 26....... 95

Aug. 27........ 87

Aug. 28........ 136

Aug. 29........ 176

Aug. 30......... 60

Aug. 31...........61. ( BYU classes began)

Sept. 1............ 103

Sept. 2........... 153

Sept. 3....... 200