Image courtesy of Kayl Peck.
Colleges have done everything they can to avoid it: a major COVID-19 outbreak on campus. Reducing dorm density, hosting mostly online classes, enforcing distancing protocols, putting cleaning supplies in every classroom, and making dining almost entirely takeout. All these measures have had a cost: equipping microphones, cameras, and cleaning supplies in classrooms, and consistent COVID-19 testing for thousands. But despite all these measures in place, colleges across the country have halted or suspended in-person instruction because of an outbreak only a few weeks in.
So how is Mines still going strong, almost 2 months later?
There are some horror stories out there; during the first week of the semester more than 100 students tested positive at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, filling up their entire on-campus quarantine housing. A week after class started, students were told to pack up and go home. In a more local case, after a large outbreak of COVID-19 among students of CU Boulder, Boulder County Public Health issued a stayat-home order for anyone living near or on campus and banned gatherings of any kind for people aged 18-22.
But at Mines, there have only been 54 confirmed positive cases since August. There were 2 weeks in September when there were no new cases reported. Mines has had a positivity rate of .43%, while Colorado has had a 3.7% 7-day positivity rate. This may change, with the 20 new cases reported in the last week, and the Mines community may need to start being more cautious, hopefully this increase in cases doesn’t continue. But overall, the Mines campus has been a relatively COVID-free bubble. How is this possible? Is there something special about Mines, or are there other factors at play?
Let’s look at some of the things that could make a difference. Larger colleges seem to be having more of an issue with COVID-19 outbreaks perhaps because of the sheer size of the college and student body. It’s a lot easier to keep track of and test 5,000 students as opposed to 50,000.
While there’s no way to really check if Mines students are attending parties or not, it may be one of the reasons Mines hasn’t been forced entirely online. At some colleges, like University of North Carolina, and Notre Dame, a multitude of cases appeared in the first few weeks and were linked to large parties. Those schools switched to online-only classes within a few weeks.
Being partially online at Mines is certainly also helping. Although if distancing, masking, and cleaning procedures are being followed correctly, the classroom shouldn’t pose an exorbitant amount of risk. This partially online, partially in-person is great for lab classes that need to be taught in person and to better utilize the limited space on campus. Universities trying for entirely face-to-face classes saw a lot more struggles with finding space for their students.
One argument may be that because Mines is almost entirely STEM majors that believe the science behind preventative steps and understand how viruses can spread. Mines students could be more likely to listen to the warnings and take steps to keep ourselves safe.
Not every college is able to offer mandatory testing for all on-campus residents every 2 weeks. However, the ability to do so may be aided by the fact that less than 15% of Mines students live in on-campus housing. Dorms, which are infamously close living quarters, could easily propagate the virus causing a massive outbreak. By reducing population density in the dorms and having a small percent of the student body living on-campus, Mines likely has a lower chance of an outbreak.
To keep Mines safe and mostly COVID-free, we need to continue being proactive as a college. PCJ asked people to not travel over fall break, to stay in rather than go out and risk bringing infection back to campus. This may be a recommendation that extends to Thanksgiving as well, providing we continue to be on campus until that point. It looks like Mines may have a good handle on things, with students to thank for keeping themselves and their peers accountable. •