WU reports 117 student COVID-19 violations amid new clusters

and | News Editors

Since the start of the spring semester, three large clusters of COVID-19 cases have been reported by Washington University, and the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards has adjudicated at least 117 student conduct cases related to COVID-19 violations.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

An empty hammock swings outside of Nemerov House, a quarantine location for students infected with COVID-19. Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, said that despite the clusters, the number of students in quarantine and isolation housing is lower than it was at the end of the fall semester.

According to Sheryl Mauricio, associate dean of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, her office has adjudicated a total of 649 COVID-19 violations during the 2020-2021 academic year, 117 of which have occurred this semester. These violations range in severity from lack of mask wearing to hosting an unsafe social event. Although no students to date have been suspended or expelled for COVID-19 violations, Mauricio said that “several cases have been referred to the Student Conduct Board for suspension regarding egregious allegations of violation of Wash. U.’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines.”

This comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising on campus, with the University reporting three large clusters on the Danforth Campus COVID-19 Dashboard.

According to Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, the first cluster from Jan. 28 involved a group of graduate students gathering for dinner. After one attendee reported symptoms the following Monday, a total of 12 students from the gathering tested positive and 29 other students were required to quarantine.

The second cluster, which occured from Feb. 4 to Feb. 6., involved five separate off-campus gatherings with many of the same undergraduate students gathering in groups of 10 to 15. As a result, 19 students tested positive and 58 other students were required to quarantine.

On March 10, the University posted a third cluster on the dashboard that occurred from Feb. 12-19, involving multiple unmasked gatherings with many of the same students socializing in groups of four to ten. This resulted in 30 positive cases and 48 additional students instructed to quarantine.

While those are the only three clusters reported so far, Wild confirmed that he had received reports about an alleged in-person fraternity rush meeting and party. Wild also said that “several [sports] teams have had activity suspended while we’re investigating some COVID cases involving numbers of those programs.”

Although the rise in COVID-19 cases mirrors the rise in violations of University COVID-19 guidelines, Wild emphasized that the contact tracing process and conduct process remain completely separate.

“We don’t want the conduct process to interfere with the work of the health professionals,” Wild said.

Mauricio added that the Student Conduct Office will adjudicate cases reported directly or indirectly through the COVID-19 Concerns Portal, Residential Life, WUPD or from other individuals that learn of an incident that potentially violates University policies. However, information shared with the Habif Health and Wellness Center regarding COVID symptoms or contact tracing will not be shared with the Student Conduct Office.

“Medical records and contract tracing information remain confidential with the Habif Health and Wellness Center and therefore will not be used for any Conduct proceedings or reporting,” Mauricio wrote.

When students are referred to the Office of Student Conduct for allegedly violating COVID-19 guidelines, Mauricio wrote that students receive a Notice of Complaint to request a meeting regarding the allegations. Once a meeting occurs and a determination is made, students receive an outcome letter that shares the decision.

While students can receive a COVID-19 warning for initial or low-level violations, Mauricio wrote that “if the first violation is a higher-level violation or is a recurring behavior that violates policy, the student would not be issued a COVID-19 warning, but would have a case that needs to be adjudicated and, if found responsible for a Student Conduct violation, issued sanctions that are appropriate for the level of the violation.”

Mauricio also noted that individuals who host events that violate COVID-19 guidelines are subject to much stricter penalties than those who attend.

“Each conduct case depends on the circumstance of the event and the behaviors in which students are deciding to participate,” she wrote.

In order to be more proactive about COVID-19 monitoring, the University has also hired new contact tracers specifically for the Wash. U. student body.

“We’ve hired quite a few more staff, both in nursing and in contact tracing operation, to basically create a mini public health department,” Wild said. “And we’ve worked it out with the county contact tracing system that we’re doing all our own contact tracing; St. Louis County and St. Louis City don’t have to do the contact tracing for Wash. U. students. What that means is we just do it: We’re faster, and it’s working quite efficiently.”

While Habif executive director Dr. Cheri LeBlanc expressed confidence in the University’s ability to handle new cases, citing the new staff at Habif dedicated to isolation and quarantine management, she also said she was concerned about the increasing number of clusters and the upward trend of COVID-19 cases.

“This is happening across the nation at universities,” she wrote. “Everyone is tired of COVID restrictions and may be letting down their guard, as it seems that we may be near the end of the pandemic with vaccine rollout, etc. However, we really need to double down on our efforts to be compliant with the public health guidelines through the rest of this semester.”

Still, the number of COVID-19 cases has yet to rise to the levels that it reached at the end of the fall semester, which Wild considers to be a promising sign.

“In the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving we had between 200 and 250 students in quarantine and isolation housing, both on and off campus,” Wild said. “[this spring] we’ve just barely gone over 100… so while I would like to see that number being a lot lower, we’re not to where we were in November.”

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