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University data questioned as Longwood cases reach 3

Three Longwood University students have tested positive for COVID-19, joining 10 reported cases from Hampden- Sydney College.

Sunday, Aug. 30, Longwood’s online COVID-19 dashboard was updated to reflect three positive coronavirus cases in the university’s student population. That figure remained the same after Monday’s update.

The cases at Longwood are the first reported since students returned to school for the fall semester, but members of the public have raised questions about how the university is reporting its data. The dashboard says only students tested at the university health center are included in the count.

Nearby, Hampden-Sydney College has reported 10 coronavirus cases since the students returned to campus. Five of those cases are currently active.

In its reopening plans, officials announced the college would be contracting with Kallaco Health and Technology to test all students shortly after their arrival.

Monday, Aug. 31, the school was listed as having administered a total of 1,004 COVID-19 tests, 921 of which had been analyzed, with 1.09% of analyzed tests coming back positive.

Whereas Hampden-Sydney elected to test all students upon their return, Longwood University has not conducted widespread testing.

The school is not reporting the number of tests administered. Additionally, university officials have stated the school will not have access to results from tests taken outside the University Health Center, meaning students tested by family physicians, hospitals or other healthcare providers will likely not be counted in the school’s overall case count.

Unlike many colleges and universities across the commonwealth, Longwood University will not share information regarding how many students are quarantined at any given time.

Longwood University Assistant Vice President of Communications Matthew McWilliams said Sunday the decision was motivated by student privacy.

“Student health information is fundamentally private, and Longwood will always respect that,” McWilliams said. “For both legal privacy reasons and for the important public health consideration of reassuring students their privacy will be respected, we are not publishing detailed information about those in quarantine or isolation. It’s important students know their privacy will be honored so they do not fear coming forward if symptomatic.”

McWilliams added an email was distributed to students Friday, Aug. 28, for transparency purposes, letting students know three peers were quarantining in on-campus housing and 12 in off-campus housing. The message warned students those numbers would fluctuate.

“We are committed to keeping the community updated on the overall public health situation,” McWilliams wrote in the email.

On Sunday, McWilliams highlighted for students isolating or quarantine on campus, the ARC Hall dormitories have been set aside as a space for students to temporarily move into while either awaiting test results or isolating in place following a positive test.

“We have further housing options should we need them, and there is ample capacity to handle students who need to quarantine or isolate,” he added.

McWilliams also confirmed Longwood is not requiring staff to be tested for the virus, although the university is providing tests through its health center for staff who need them. The number of staff and faculty cases are also not listed on Longwood’s dashboard.

When asked why other universities publish quarantine data but Longwood does not, McWilliams said in an email Monday, Aug. 31, the university had recently heard from other institutions that students are sometimes hesitant to work with university health centers because they are afraid they will be identified.

“We know other institutions are taking different approaches, and we will be evaluating regularly in light of feedback and guidance, and may update our process if we can do so in a way that is not misleading,” he said.

On Monday McWilliams added the university is not publishing quarantine capacity data (how many beds are available) as officials do not anticipate capacity will be a problem. He noted Longwood has approximately 60 beds in the ARC Hall, and if needed, 48 in the South Rotunda and approximately 250 at the currently unoccupied Longwood Village.

These beds, it should be noted, are just for providing on-campus quarantine or isolation for students not using their own residence hall room, using off-campus housing or returning to their own homes outside of Farmville.

“The vast majority of students, so far, fall in one of those three categories,” he said.

Many other colleges and universities in Virginia are dealing with coronavirus outbreaks of their own. On Monday, James Madison University was listed on its online COVID-19 dashboard as having a cumulative total of 354 positive students after 1055 student tests at its university health center.

On Monday, Virginia Commonwealth University listed on its online COVID-19 dashboard a total of 97 active student coronavirus cases and seven active employee cases, with 42 residential students in isolation and 95 residential students in quarantine. The school had 15 of its initial 4,407 entry test results come back positive.

The University of Richmond was reporting three active cases of the virus in its student population Monday, with nine cumulative cases since students’ return and 25 positive cases prior to arrival on campus. The university has tested a total of 3,102 students.

On Sunday, Roanoke College was reporting 33 positive student tests out of 880 student tests administered. Roanoke also reported three positive staff cases out of 67 staff tested.

Randolph-Macon College was reporting one student case of the virus Monday, with 23 students in precautionary quarantine. Randolph-Macon does not list the number of students tested.

As of Monday afternoon, the University of Lynchburg documented 36 positive COVID-19 tests within its student population, 24 on-campus and 12 off-campus. The university, according to its COVID-19 dashboard, was managing an additional 112 students in quarantine and isolation, 78 on-campus and 34 off-campus as of Monday. The university does not list the number of students tested.