It’s been a week of significant COVID-19 increases in Athens County, with two more Ohio University residence halls being placed in quarantine and Athens County being ranked as having the highest rate of COVID-19 in Ohio.
Residents of both Jefferson and Tiffin halls were ordered to quarantine by the Athens City-County Health Department on Tuesday, Oct. 13. In Jefferson Hall, 16 of the 69 residents tested positive, as did 22 of the 78 residents in Tiffin Hall.
This latest quarantine follows a similar situation last week when Boyd Hall was vacated after 19 of the hall’s 94 residents tested positive for the virus. Individuals who tested positive in Boyd were immediately relocated to other residence halls for isolation, and the remaining 78 students were sent to a different dorm for quarantine through Oct. 21.
Students who tested positive in Jefferson and Tiffin were similarly relocated to isolation halls. The remaining students of both halls were placed under quarantine in a different hall due to the close proximity of dorm living, which meets the household definition the state provides for close contacts. They will be under quarantine until Oct. 25.
All students placed under quarantine at OU are being provided for by the university. Meals are brought in throughout the day and instructors work with students to make sure coursework is completed.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for our University community to follow University policy and adhere to public health guidance to keep our students, faculty and staff safe,” President M. Duane Nellis said in a press release. “The increasing numbers of COVID cases we are seeing in our residence halls should serve as a wake-up call to our students. Now more than ever, we need to follow necessary health practices to keep our community safe, protect our own families and friends, and ensure business continuity.”
OU students fall into the largest and fastest-rising demographic of COVID-19 cases in Athens County, with those aged 20-29 currently accounting for 68% of the total COVID-19 cases in Athens County since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Athens County was ranked as having the highest occurrence rate in the state of Ohio. With 238 new cases from Sept. 28 to Oct. 11. Gov. Mike DeWine named Athens County on Twitter along with Fayette, Putnam, Mercer and Darke counties as being “off the charts” in terms of the CDC’s definition of high incidence.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 254 known active cases in Athens County. There have been 1,073 since the beginning of the pandemic, with two deaths. Statewide, there are now 173,665 total COVID-19 cases, and 5,033 deaths.
In Athens County, the rising numbers have frequently been blamed on the student population. The two largest demographics are those aged 20-29 and 0-19. Many in the community were concerned when OU invited 7,000 more students back to in-person classes on Sept. 28, as part of OU’s phased return plan.
However, OU’s COVID-19 Dashboard suggests that the largest number of those testing positive have been off-campus students. Per the most recent update on Monday, Oct. 12, 145 students living in Residence Halls had been tested, with 94 positive test results and nine pending, however, there are 405 positive test results total for Athens students. Meaning 311 of the students who have tested positive likely live off-campus and may have already been living in Athens prior to the beginning of OU’s phase two.
Nellis states that the university has been working hard to prepare for potential outbreaks currently seen on OU’s campus.
“We have planned for this potential situation. And while we wish that no one is put in this situation, we are acting swiftly to get our students who are impacted by the health order into appropriate spaces and limit the chance that other students in the residence hall would contract the virus and unintentionally spread it to others,” Nellis said last week.