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Health director says ECU cluster involves 17-18 cases

Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 7:31 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 7:59 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The Pitt County health director says the cluster of COVID-19 cases at an East Carolina University dorm involves 17-18 cases.

ECU announced the cluster at Gateway West Monday night. A cluster is defined as five or more cases and the university is not saying exactly how many people are involved.

Dr. John Silvernail also said this morning that he doesn’t see the need at this time for ECU to go to emote learning.

“I think education has to go on. One of the biggest social determinants of health, whether this is our K through 12 schools or our universities is education and I don’t think we should deprive or delay anybody’s education at this point,” Silvernail said, “Should we move to some sort of online model? Not necessarily, I think we’re looking at a population that’s at low risk from this infection. And yes we’re going to have cases, I think we need to manage those cases. We’re trying to be aggressive with the contact tracing in that population.”

Silvernail also had advice for the community.

“As a private citizen in Greenville, I would say try not to hang out with college students unless they’re your own kids. And even then you need to probably have some degree of caution in terms of interacting with them if they’ve been on campus,” Silvernail said.

“As an individual you have to decide what your risk is and what your level of comfort is and then to live within what you consider an acceptable level of risk from this infection.”

He also said the infection is part of the environment now. “It’s going to be with us for a while,” he said. “I think there’s hopeful news on a vaccine. We hope to have that some time before the end of the year or early next year.”

ECU is also working with the state to keep the university as safe as possible.

“[ECU has] a very productive plan on how they’re not just going to work with law enforcement but use the tools at the university, at ECU, to hold the students accountable,” explained Mandy Cohen, secretary for the state department of health and human services.

A Twitter account reportedly created by a group of students is advocating for the university to switch to remote classes.

The account, #ShutDownECU, wants the university to follow UNC-Chapel Hill’s decision to switch to remote learning after a COVID-19 cluster was reported in a residence hall. The page includes a list of demands, including moving classes fully online, creating a transition plan for students returning home and increasing testing.

On Tuesday, ECU announced it will stay with in-person classes even though it has seen another jump in COVID-19 cases among students on campus.

The university said there were 29 new student positive tests last week, compared to 28 the week before. There were two new positive tests among employees during the same time period.

ECU says since June 7th, 108 students and 17 employees have tested positive for the virus. Out of those 125 total cases, the university says 92 are now recovered.

Graph showing the number of positive cases at ECU.
Graph showing the number of positive cases at ECU.(ECU)

East Carolina reported its first cluster in a dorm Monday evening.

A “cluster” is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases among people in close proximity, like those who live in the same residence hall.

ECU says the students who tested positive live in Gateway West and have been in isolation off-campus for a few days. The university says they performed contact tracing based on the first person who showed symptoms and identified other students in the same suite that came in close contact.

Students who live in and around the have different opinions.

“I’m not too concerned with it,” said Garrett Chandler, a resident in Gateway West. “I really think people are blowing it out of proportion. As long as we do what we’re supposed to do, I think this school year will go fine.”

But others, like Chandler Bennett, said he’s heard of big gatherings happening in that residence hall. “People in Gateway be throwing them mini little parties in Gateway and stuff and...they need to chill out,” he said.

Bennett has a friend who got the virus, and that’s why he hopes students, himself included, stay safe . “It took one of my homeboys getting sick to really say alright, it’s time to buckle down, not party no more,” explained Bennett.

The university says common spaces, bathrooms, and doors at residence halls are being cleaned multiple times a day.

ON-CAMPUS CLASSES TO CONTINUE

In a letter to faculty and staff obtained by WITN, Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson said this morning that the university would continue with on-campus classes.

On Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill said it would revert back to virtual classes after a spike in on-campus cases at that university.

Mitchelson did say that this past weekend there were two dozen parties where ECU police and Greenville police were called. The interim chancellor said while there was no party as large as the one reported the week before, they have “turned up the heat on these gatherings and there are consequences for this behavior.”

He pointed out that the vast majority of ECU students are compliant with social distancing standards, according to the letter.

8/19 MORNING STORY

East Carolina University says a cluster of COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed at Gateway Residence Hall.

A “cluster” is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases among people in close proximity, like those who live in the same residence hall.

ECU says the students who tested positive live in Gateway West and have been in isolation off-campus for a few days. The university says they performed contact tracing based on the first person who showed symptoms and identified other students in the same suite that came in close contact.

Additionally, the university says common spaces, bathrooms and doors at residence halls are being cleaned multiple times a day.

Campus leaders are urging students to practice social distancing, wear masks and avoid large crowds, events or parties.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches or a cough, should immediately contact their medical provider or Student Health Services, (252) 328-6841.

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