Governor Phil Murphy announced a total of 23 identifiable outbreaks in 22 school districts during a press conference September 22. Data from K-12 positive cases have been recorded by the Department of Health, but New Jersey colleges have long undergone their own mode of independent follow-up.
The Ramapo News conducted a more in-depth investigation, analyzing trends among Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Montclair State University and Ramapo College in New Jersey. These schools were selected based on the varying size of the campuses and the number of undergraduate students as of fall 2020.
Colleges in New Jersey have implemented a Covid dashboard, which displays a table of weekly positive cases within their respective campuses. However, the numbers presented are surprisingly low, as testing at all three universities is only required for students exempt from the vaccine. The consequence of this is largely based on inaccuracy, as it does not really reflect the spread of Covid on campus. This worried many students and made the likelihood of an outbreak more likely, given the rise of the delta variant.
Rutgers New Brunswick, for example, has 35,844 suburban and residential students, but their dashboard indicates a positivity rate of 1.73% after the week of September 25. Of the 811 people tested – including students, employees and affiliates – only 14 had contracted Covid, a drop of 1.1% from the previous week.
Students, however, are finding that more can be done to contain the virus in schoolyards. Rutgers student Gabriel Garcia, senior, sees the university’s inability to enforce mask warrants and passenger capacity on campus-affiliated buses as an apparent disregard for public safety.
“If your classes are on a different campus, which is usually the case, you have to take the buses,” Garcia explained. “We’re in there like sardines, and not everyone wears a mask.”
Garcia said this was just one example of Rutgers’ decision not to comply with recommended Center for Disease Control guidelines. Other cases where students refuse to follow the rules of Covid occur in the classroom. “Every time I’m on campus, I’m paranoid,” Garcia said.
At Montclair, a campus of 16,374 students, the story changes only slightly. Their dashboard suggests that 12 students and four employees tested positive for Covid the week of September 30. Two weeks earlier, however, the university reported 54 confirmed cases, four of which were employees.
Unlike Rutgers, a mask warrant is enforced inside all campus facilities, including buses. Yet the environment remains vulnerable to transmission.
Nathan Thiesse, senior, had quarantined twice earlier this semester on college jurisdiction. Once after completing a daily “Hawk Check”, a questionnaire examining active symptoms, and again when he has received a false positive rapid test.
Thiesse explained that his safety at Montclair is directly correlated with the accuracy of the information shared by the college. “The only thing I want my school to be able to disclose to its students is the percentage of those who did not receive the vaccine for religious or health reasons.”
In a school as small as Ramapo, with only 5,412 undergraduates, students may feel like it’s easier to contain Covid. At the end of September, the college dashboard suggests a weekly average of two confirmed cases. A year ago, when there were far fewer students on campus, the school only reported one case.
The school mask policy includes sanctions not applied by Rutgers or Montclair. Ramapo has incorporated a system of fines in the event that a student does not wear his mask indoors. The first offense is an official warning, but the fourth results in costs of $ 150 and disciplinary probation.
Emily Melvin, junior, finds that masks can’t do everything. “Even with proper use of the mask, I’m still nervous that Covid or other diseases will spread,” she said before explaining a recent Covid alert. Melvin has been tested off campus. “It was negative, but what worried me was what would happen if I had it?” “
Precise transparency regarding confirmed cases of Covid remains an issue at all three colleges. Melvin continued, “I’m sure these are fears with many students, and while we individually do our part to be safe, I’m still not sure that’s enough.”