SU COVID-19 Weekly Briefing – Thursday, September 10

Good afternoon, everybody Thank you for tuning in to this week’s briefing Since March, SU has been working closely with the university system of Maryland and our sister institutions and following the guidance of state and local health officials as we have planned for handling COVID-19 on our campus Today, I am pleased to be joined remotely by an official from the Maryland Department of Health to speak with us Dr. Clifford Mitchell is director of the Environmental Health Bureau for the prevention and health promotion administration for the state I’d like to talk to you a little bit about our campus’s current COVID-19 testing efforts And then Dr. Mitchell will speak on contact tracing, positivity rates, and case rates First, allow me to thank everyone from the campus community who participated in SU’s mandatory testing event this week Since last Friday, we scheduled over 7,000 members of the SU community for COVID-19 testing Athletic training staff, nursing faculty, and other volunteers from across campus pitched in to pull this off It was a monumental undertaking, but it was a necessary step to best support the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students, and the surrounding community At this time, we have test results back from last Friday and from Monday and Tuesday Those just came in this morning Those figures have been updated on our dashboard Wednesday’s results will be added once we receive them, allowing us to have a thorough snapshot of our seven day average positivity rate A seven day average, not a single batch of tests, is what public health officials recommend examining when making data driven decisions related to COVID-19 OK At this time, I’d like to turn things over to Dr. Clifford Mitchell with the Maryland Department of Health to talk about contact tracing, positivity rates, and case rates Dr. Mitchell, thank you for joining us And welcome CLIFFORD MITCHELL: Thank you very much It’s a pleasure to be here and to talk with you all about what Salisbury University, together with the state of Maryland, are doing to help address the issue of COVID-19 And I know that this has been a huge challenge for the academic community We’ve been meeting on a regular basis through the Maryland Higher Education Commission with the heads of the university systems, including university system from Maryland, the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association, and other academic partners, all of whom have been working very hard to try to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 Most of you were not alive in 1918 during the last worldwide pandemic So welcome to your first worldwide pandemic And this has obviously been a huge challenge for the United States, for the world as a whole, and that has really involved work on the part of everyone to try to respond in a way that allows society to continue functioning but takes into account a disease that is highly transmissible and has serious health consequences for many people So what I’d like to do is just take you through how the state is responding, where we are at the moment, and a little bit on how we can work together to address COVID-19 and the role that you as faculty, students, members of the academic community have been, and will be, and are continuing to work together with your community to address COVID-19 So let me start with where we are at the moment And I’m sure that many of you have looked at your own testing page, which you were just reminded of contains all of the information about where testing is currently

with respect to the university But to put this in perspective, let me just give you a little bit of background on where as a state we are in the overall process And to do that, we look at a series of data on a daily basis on COVID-19 to understand for where we are Currently, in Maryland, we have confirmed 114,078 cases since the beginning of the pandemic here in Maryland in early March of this year On average, we are seeing somewhere between 400 to 500 and 700 to 800 cases a day being identified through testing Our daily positivity rate– and I’ll talk a little bit about that more in a minute– is averaging somewhere around 3 and 1/2% And that has been remarkably stable since about mid-June And as you all know, this has been the work that has been caused by all the work that you all have done as individuals in Maryland to accomplish social distancing– to stay more than 6 feet away from other people, to use facial coverings, facial cloth coverings, to protect yourselves and others from the aerosol containing virus for people who have been infected, and all of the other measures that people have used and have been using to protect themselves, and their families, and their friends, and their community from COVID-19 We have seen a drop in the number of hospitalized patients, from over 1,500 at the peak of the first wave here in Maryland in early May down to, currently, a total of about 358 hospitalized patients of whom a little less than 100 are in intensive care units Now one of the things that we have seen that has been profound and significant in terms of the change in the picture of COVID here in Maryland has been a shift Early in the pandemic, in the first several months– March, April, and May– the majority of people that we saw and the highest positivity rate that we saw was in people 35 years of age and older And in particular, we saw that we had a high rate of ICU utilization, intensive care unit utilization, and a high rate of people being quite sick And that was because the people who were being affected, many of them were some of our medically most vulnerable residents, including people in nursing homes, people with chronic health care problems, and so forth That pattern has changed over the past several months Now we are seeing a shift towards younger people being infected more than older people And that’s been the result of several things But what it has meant is that– and this is really important that we can’t stress this enough– as people have gotten out and around more and as people have– as we have reopened Maryland– and I’ll talk a little bit about that– the risk of exposure has shifted so that a higher percentage of people are testing positive in the total number of people who are tested who are under the age of 35 And that means that in the demographic group that represents university students, those are some of the highest risks for COVID-19 in terms of the probability of being infected as we reopen our academic institutions So I want to talk a little bit now about what these various metrics are that we’re using and where you are in relationship to all of these other things So we talk about two very common metrics when we talk about COVID-19 The first is the positivity rate The positivity rate is the rate of tests that are positive So it’s the number of tests that are positive as determined by a Reverse Transcriptase

Polymerase Chain Reaction– RT-PCR for the biology majors and the molecular biology majors in the group It’s an RT-PCR test And if that test is positive, we divide the total number of tests that are positive by the total number of tests that are done And that gives us the positivity rate Now in some states and in some national dashboards, the positivity rate is actually calculated slightly differently It’s calculated based on the number of tests divided by the number of people And either one is valid Maryland happens to use the total number of tests as the denominator But in either event, the significance of the positivity rate is that, as the total number of tests goes up, you expect that the number of positives will go down So one aspect of the positivity rate is how much testing is going on The second is how many people are actually positive and confirmed positive in that particular population So positivity rate can go down for two different reasons One is because the number of infected people is going down But it can also go down because we are testing more people who are asymptomatic and not infected so that if we vastly expand our testing, the positivity rate may go down even if, potentially, the number of people being infected is actually going up because it’s a ratio So the question is is the number of people going up proportionately greater than the increase in testing volume So the positivity rate has some limitations as a single metric And the other metric that we use in contrast to it is what’s called the new case rate And the new case rate is simply the number of new cases in a given period of time divided by the total population for the population at risk So we look at the new case rate by county And so what we do to determine the case rate on a cumulative basis is to take the total number of cases in that county, divide it by the population, and then multiply by 100,000 And that gives you the case rate per 100,000 individuals And the reason that’s a useful metric is because you divide it by the population size and then multiply it by a standard, which is 100,000 population, then you can compare the case rate in different jurisdictions even though they have different populations So even if you’ve got one jurisdiction that has a huge number of people and another jurisdiction prediction that has a relatively smaller number of people, you compare them by using the case rate and it’s as though both jurisdictions had 100,000 people in them And then you can compare the rates in those two jurisdictions directly and say, is the rate per 100,000 higher in this group or this group So we look at the rate per 100,000 in jurisdictions And that’s the new case rate that you will also see referred to Now in the case of your jurisdiction and Wicomico County, the case rate in Wicomico County currently– if we look at the daily case rates in each of the jurisdictions, and I believe that you report that as well in your metric, we are looking at case rates that vary in terms of the highs to the lows across the state with the highest jurisdictions having case rates of somewhere in the thousands So for example, while the Eastern Shore has case rates varying from a low of 277 per 100,000 to a high of 1,683 per 100,000 So Wicomico County– again, the new case rates can be influenced by testing

If there’s an outbreak in a particular area, we will test and identify more cases But the new case rate is a relatively better metric than the positivity rate because it is not so susceptible to the volume of tests that are conducted And as I said, our highest case rates currently are in the central Baltimore and the national capital region where the case rates are somewhere from the 15,000 per 100,000 to the– I’m sorry– 2,500 per 100,000 to a low of 224 per 100,000 in our lowest jurisdiction, which is Garrett County So right now I believe that the case rates on the Eastern Shore tend to be in the neighborhood of, for the most part, a low of today 733 per 100,000 to a high of 1,624 per 100,000 That gives you a sense of how the case rates are going Now let me finish up by just talking a little bit about how we are working together with the university to address COVID And let me just say a couple of things about that So the first is contact tracing When tests are done, then the local health department, the Wicomico County Health Department, together with a contractor, is making calls to all of the people who have a positive test And if you do see that Maryland COVID link number come up on your phone, please do respond to it They will walk you through a series of questions about people you may have been in contact with during the period two days before you became symptomatic all the way– or two days before your positive test all the way to current time And the purpose of that is so that we can quickly call those people and encourage them to be tested and encourage them to self-isolate or self-quarantine to avoid infecting other people So that contact tracing is one of the very strong and important parts of what it is that we are doing together with the university Secondly is influenza vaccination I really want to urge all of you– everybody who is listening to me today should be planning to get a flu vaccine when it becomes available, because the more people are vaccinated with the flu, the less confusion there will be between people who might have the flu and people who might have COVID-19 because they will be circulating together in the general population And then, finally, and this is as important as the other two, maintaining social distancing and preventing large social gatherings All of us were familiar with being in the university and the academic environment of being away at college And clearly, one of the joys of college and one of the most important aspects of college is the academic experience but also the social experience of being with other people that you haven’t been with before, intellectual exchange, and recreation At this point in our time, it’s really important to try to avoid those large social gatherings where people are getting together and breathing in the same space for the same period of time So I would really encourage you face masks at all times, 6 feet from other people, and protect yourself, your family, your suitemates, dormmates, et cetera The more you do that individually, the more collectively we can control COVID-19 and you can still have a really good experience at school So Mr. President, I’ll refer back to you and just be available shortly for if you have any other questions Otherwise, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to chat with you And on behalf of the governor and the secretary, thank you for inviting us to participate Thank you, Dr. Mitchell I really appreciate you being with us today and sharing your expertise on case rates, and positivity rates, and all the sorts of things that we need to know about to make personal decisions

and institutional decisions Now based on Dr Mitchell’s explanations, I’d like to give you a little bit more information about our current numbers SU’s current positivity rate on a seven day weekly average is 6.5% And that compares with the county’s rate of 6.1% and, as Dr. Mitchell mentioned, is a little more than twice what the state’s positivity rate is But we’ll be discussing what this means for our operational levels with public health officials and taking into account a variety of other factors, like our capacity for contact tracing, isolation, taking care of people when they’re sick, and so forth So we’ll be discussing all of this with public health officials, university health officials, as well as our faculty, staff, and student leaders Based on the current information that we have this morning, we are not anticipating any immediate change in the level of campus operations But this could change as more results come in So each week, I will inform you of how many SU-related COVID cases we are aware of, even if they were not identified from SU-administered testing Currently, we’re aware of approximately 260 cases among SU students, faculty, and staff And that number includes cases that were identified as the results of tests that we conducted on campus Just a note on our testing This week we averaged roughly 2,000 tests per day And we increased our capacity in order to get as many students and employees tested as possible Now I’ve come to learn that there were some waiting in line longer than what had been our average waiting time in the past Those conducting tests are from our athletic training staff, from the Department of Nursing, and other volunteers and they’ve just been phenomenal All are trained and skilled in specimen collection And I deeply appreciate their contributions and their commitment to keeping our campus healthy and safe Our dashboard will continue to be updated every time a new batch of SU-administered test results are received Participating in SU testing so we can have an accurate snapshot of what is happening is important if our goal is to stay open And it is We want to be good neighbors to our surrounding community And that’s why it’s important for all of us to double down on the mask wearing, and the social distancing, and the hand hygiene that we’ve recently come to be part of our lives I am grateful that I have not heard of any very large gatherings of SU students or employees And that’s good We’ve had some smaller gatherings, which we’re trying to discourage But so far, the vast majority of our community has been just completely responsible And I thank you for that And a few other updates SU created a campus health office It’s to provide administrative support to human resources and to our student health services Students or employees should contact the campus health office if you have any questions about exposure or positive tests If you have general COVID questions, you can contact our regular information line SU hired a registered nurse working under Campus health to specifically help handle employee questions and cases, something that we haven’t been able to do before Regarding the university’s budget, the USM, University System of Maryland, did release a statement this week on budgets and personnel actions And you can read that on the USM website SU is projecting a revenue loss for fiscal year ’21, which we just started last July And that revenue loss is about $26 million But we have found ways to close that gap in partnership with some funding opportunities from the University System of Maryland Our executive staff will be taking temporary salary reductions and I will as well But aside from that, SU has no current plans to institute layoffs, or temporary salary reductions, or furloughs for our employees if the revenue estimates hold Before we start taking some questions,

I want to share a couple of good news items There’s still a lot of great work happening across our campus even though the start of the semester has been like no other On Tuesday, it was my honor to announce a $1.5 million gift from two very generous SU benefactors to name the Glenda Chatham and Robert Clarke Honors College Bob and Glenda’s endowment will support academic programming, scholarships, and faculty initiatives, and other enhancement for the SU Clark’s Honors College in perpetuity COVID-19 delayed spring naming events so we were very excited to finally be able to share the impact that that will have on our students Last week, our students shared their research during a virtual summer research showcase and spotlighted more than 20 projects that they’ve been working on remotely with faculty mentors The Princeton Review also recently named SU’s Guerrieri Academic Commons one of the top 20 best college libraries in the nation Kudos to everyone who works in the Guerrieri Academic Commons What a fantastic, spectacular building that is We also have supported public K12 students as they started back to school this week SU donated laptops to schools in Wicomico and Baltimore counties to help with technology access issues And we have some 180 education students across seven counties who are assisting mentor teachers and students through full and part time internships So go SU students I know there’s so much more thoughtful work going on across campus And we want to continue to spotlight your efforts I also want to address one other situation Last Saturday evening, SU became aware of an image that was circulating on social media that was apparently a rope in a tree on campus that was inferred to be a noose SU police were dispatched, and promptly investigated, and determined that the rope was the remnants of a support infrastructure for a bird feeder that had been installed by the Biological Sciences Department in a few places on our campus as part of an SU green fund project The feeders had been taken down when COVID-19 hit, but the ropes were left with the intention of reinstalling those bird feeders eventually Now while there may not have been any intentional malicious intent when these bird feeders were placed around campus, that does not negate the impact that the hateful symbol of a rope that resembled a noose conjured I want to be clear This was left from a bird feeder And it was not constructed as a noose It was about a two inch loop in the end of a piece of rope But a part of being an inclusive campus means that we must do a better job of paying attention to the impact of our actions regardless of the intent And we will So at this time, I’ll take a few questions I was handed two questions to start And the first is, when will we receive results? So earlier this morning, we received part of the official results from the University of Maryland Baltimore, which processes our tests The people who tested positive are being contacted this morning They are our highest priority The thousands of people whose tests came back negative will be informed as soon as we can We did not receive 100% of the results today That’s normal But we expect to receive the remainder of the results and the results of Wednesday’s testing later on this week So the positive people will be given priority We’ll let them know immediately Everybody else, we just ask for a little bit of patience because there are many, many people to contact OK The second question is who is performing the tests Well, as I mentioned, the test samples are processed by the University of Maryland Baltimore They are our COVID-19 testing partner And they run these highly sensitive PCR tests for us But the samples are collected by SU employees

They are nursing faculty They are athletic training staff They are student and campus health nurses We have volunteers from our police department and from environmental and health and safety to maintain order, and traffic, and lines, and so forth, and help people get organized and directed to the right place So those people are helping us They are highly trained professionals And I am very grateful to all of them for being with us and helping us to conduct these tests and collect the samples Eli, do we have any other questions that came in? ELI: Yes, Dr. Wight Could you talk about the 200 or so tests that were positive that SU is was aware of? So you mentioned that that includes both the tests that we’ve collected and those taken outside of SU But are all of those people still on campus? So whenever we learn of positive tests, we immediately contact the student or an employee and tell them not to be on campus until they are cleared to return to campus by a health professional That time is not necessarily 10 or 14 days It depends on how sick a person is and so forth But a health professional will make the decision about when they come to campus Now some of the people who are COVID cases were identified through our testing process But others of them had tests elsewhere And sometimes we find out about it And sometimes we don’t find out about it Unless people tell us about their positive tests, it’s sometimes difficult for us to know that people are positive But when we find out, those people are told that they are not cleared to come to campus until they are cleared by a health professional to return ELI: Dr. Wight, the question has come in, what about students that do not have any face to face classes but would still like to use other SU facilities Do they need to get tested? Anybody who comes to campus at all needs to be tested So it’s really not possible for us to pick and choose about who comes to campus and who doesn’t If you are cleared to come to campus at all, that means you have to have a negative COVID test on file at SU If you don’t have a negative test on file, you are not cleared to come to campus at all If you are sure that you’re never going to come to campus, then you don’t have to have a test It’s not a problem But if you need to come to the library, if you need to come to the dining hall, if you need to come to campus for any reason, you must have a negative test on file at SU ELI: Dr. Wight, as we know, you can contract the virus after the test Could you speak to the reason for doing mass testing? Sure Yes A test is only a snapshot in time And if you had your COVID test sample taken on Monday, as I did, that means that on Monday, you knew your result from Monday On Tuesday, that could change, or at anytime later than Monday, that could change And so a COVID test is only a snapshot in time What was the second part of the question? ELI: It was basically asking what the purpose of doing the mandatory testing So there are two purposes– two main purposes to do the mandatory testing One is so that we can know who’s cleared to come to campus and who isn’t The testing that we did initially to allow people to come to campus at the beginning of the semester we allowed people in remote counties to have tests run at wherever they were to come to campus But some of those tests did not have the sensitivity of the PCR tests so we had the second round of testing partly as a result of direction that we got from the University System of Maryland, partly because it allows us to have a comprehensive view of who is or is not positive this week on campus so that we can get people who had positive tests isolated, do the contact tracing to ensure the health

and safety of our campus And finally, it gives us a group of people that is large enough to make a valid determination of the overall health of our campus You know, last week we had a group of– a small group of about 58 tests And we had nine positive cases out of that batch of 58 But even though that is a positivity rate for that very small group of 15%, the inherent statistical uncertainty in that number is about 13% And so the number was almost completely uncertain With the more than 3,600 results that we have for this week, our overall positivity rate is 6.5% and the uncertainty in that number is a little bit less than 2% so we know that our overall positivity rate lies somewhere between 4 and 1/2% and 8 and 1/2% So getting larger numbers helps us to extrapolate the positivity rate to a larger campus population to know what our health really is ELI: Dr. Wight, could you speak to the decision that went into closing the athletics and recreational facilities and how that decision might be reversed? So we did have a fairly high rate of positive tests among some student athletes And so we made the decision to close those facilities in the interests of health and safety of our student athletes and also the other people who visit those facilities In addition, we have stopped all SU athletics activities for the remainder of the semester And the Coast to Coast Athletic Conference, which is the new name of our Athletic Conference, has suspended winter sports for the remainder of this calendar year So athletics is pretty much on hold in terms of intercollegiate athletics– NCAA athletics We still have opportunities for students to participate in activities on campus, but the NCAA athletics and those facilities are closed for now I don’t know immediately what it’s going to take for us to reopen the training facilities ELI: Dr. Wight, you’ve talked about the positivity rate and the case rate But could you just explain some of the other factors and key indicators that go into the decision making as it relates to the university’s operation levels? Sure I won’t remember all of them off the top of my head, but we must not only have a fairly low positivity rates and case rates, which are the two main metrics that Dr Mitchell talked about, but we have to be able to do several other things to take care of people One is we have to have the capacity for contact tracing Now contact tracing, as Dr. Mitchell indicated, is the responsibility of the county health department But we have a large campus community And we have a lot of information about what our students and employees are doing and who they may or may not be in contact with so we can support that contact tracing effort So we have to be able to do the contact tracing in a robust way to make sure that people who have been in close contact with people who have the disease can also get isolated We also need to have rooms available for students who are unable to go home or get care elsewhere, particularly students who are living on campus We have rooms set aside in Dogwood Village for this But we have to make sure that we have enough rooms available We also have a contract with a local hotel in case we run out of rooms in Dogwood Village, but we have to have that overall capacity to be able to isolate people We have to have the capacity in our regional health system for hospitalizations Now the vast majority of cases that we know about are in young people And the majority of those either people have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all So I am not concerned immediately about our capacity for hospitalization But we have to consider a variety of factors of capacity as we make decisions on an operational level

So the case rate is important and the positivity rate is important, but also many of these other factors are also important ELI: Dr. Wight, could you talk about some of the consequences that students or employees will face if it’s determined that they are not following safety protocols on or off campus? Well, if you’re not following safety protocols on or off campus, then that is a serious threat to our overall campus And it just doesn’t take very much bad behavior in a public health sense to risk a change in operational level that could send all of our instruction online or, even in the worst case, send everyone home, send all of our students home and close the campus so that all of our employees would have to telework We could easily go back to a situation that we were in last spring I very much hope that we do not get there, but it means that we all have to do our part If we find that people are not following public health guidelines and the guidelines that we have set for our students and employees, then there will be consequences You may have your access to campus closed off or you may, as a student, be suspended from campus We’ve already put more than 20 students on interim suspension for various periods of time depending on the severity of the infraction But we are very serious about asking all of our students and employees to follow the guidelines It’s for everybody’s health and safety but it’s also so that we can keep our operations here on campus ELI: Dr. Wight, do you expect to do another round of mandatory testing? How will you handle testing in the future? How we handle testing in the future depends partly on what we see each week with the current testing Now last week, we made voluntary testing available And we got a very small participation rate We will continue to offer testing to anybody who wants it on a weekly basis But if we still get a very small fraction of people participating in those tests, then I can anticipate that we would have another round of mandatory testing probably in October But as things develop, it could be sooner ELI: All right Thank you That’s all the questions we have I really thank you all for tuning in today I appreciate you being up to date on what’s going on on campus We will be communicating with you by email and by text message if and when our situation changes But for right now, I want to wish everybody a good week and happy learning for next week Thank you