UofSC president says closing campus could make things worse after rising COVID-19 cases

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 6:56 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Leaders from the University of South Carolina have provided updates on their efforts to combat the growing number of COVID-19 cases on campus. Classes at UofSC started Aug. 20. Now, two weeks later, the school is seeing 1,192 cumulative coronavirus cases.

That data coming from the university’s COVID-19 Dashboard which was launched shortly before the new school year and updated weekly. WIS-TV was on campus for the first day of classes when that tracker was showing a total of 26 active cases. That number is now standing at 1,026.

University officials say 90% of these cases are among students, adding that the spread is not happening in classrooms but instead during off-campus, social activities. Already, 15 students and more than half a dozen Greek organizations have been suspended for hosting large parties or gatherings.

University President Bob Caslen says many universities that have reopened are likely experiencing similar outbreaks but just aren’t testing as much as UofSC.

“There’s a lot of schools out there that have the same sort of student behavior ours is but they’re just not testing. Whether they have the capacity or capability to test or not – unknown – but the fact that they’re not testing, there is no large number of positives,” said Caslen.

He said the school will still, “continue high testing because we want to find the positives. It’s important to find the positives because we want to find them, we want to take care of them and we want to get them back into the classroom.”

Each day, between 900 and 1,300 students and staff are being tested. President Caslen also says most of the positive cases on campus involve students who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms.

The university is now using wastewater surveillance to identify concentrations of potential COVID-19 cases on campus.

Before the new school year, President Caslen had said he would not hesitate to close the school down if necessary. He says new guidelines from Dr. Anthony Fauci are now leading him in a different direction.

“In closing down, there are some huge consequences and a lot of unintended consequences, as well. Dr. Fauci, even today said, I quote Dr. Fauci, what he said, he said, ‘campuses shouldn’t shut down after an outbreak because it just would scatter and spread the virus further,’ and the last thing I want to do is to take this problem and close the university down and then dump the problem onto the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina. That, in my opinion, would be totally irresponsible.”

Instead of closing, President Caslen believes the best approach is to continue with testing, take care of those infected and get them back in the classroom. Overall, he says 90% of students are doing the right thing, wearing masks and social distancing.

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