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UMBC sees spike in COVID-19 cases

As students and staff prepare for Thanksgiving break, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County saw a rise in COVID-19 cases this past week. From Oct. 27 to Nov. 10, the university had 13 new positive cases of the virus, two of which were from the Athletic Department’s testing program, and the rest of which were self-reported by the positive on-campus students and staff. This increased the campus positivity rate from the last reported rate of 0.2 in Sep. to 4.1 percent. 

The university’s COVID-19 response team was made aware of 11 of the 13 cases through the university’s symptom tracker, with the individuals reporting their positive results or symptoms through the daily form. 

“I’m really pleased with the fact that, because we have to count on folks to self-report, there’s no requirement to tell anybody that you tested positive for COVID-19, but we find that our staff and students are pretty good about getting that information to us so that we can communicate with them, communicate with their close contacts and get people into quarantine a lot quicker than if we would have to wait for the Health Department,” said Chief of Police Paul Dillon. 

Dillon and Director of Community Engagement Marie Lilly stated that there was no cluster of positive cases or any super spreader event that caused the rise in cases. Dillon also added that they have not had any community spread from these recent cases. 

Despite the lack of spread, UMBC is taking precautionary measures to decrease campus occupancy before campus closure after Thanksgiving. True Grit’s closed its dine-in option effective Thursday, Nov. 12. Athletics discontinued practices also effective Nov. 12. Residential Life is now offering early check-out for students who have fully online classes and who opt to return home before Thanksgiving.

While lowering the number of people on campus helps minimize any further increase in COVID-19 cases, Dillon is also worried about the many family gatherings that students are coming home to.

“Family is a huge risk because people trust family members. They feel more comfortable around them, and family gatherings are one of the highest spreaders of COVID-19,” said Dillon.

In addition to the risk posed by family gatherings, Lilly also emphasized the dangers of traveling.

“We know these are tough decisions to make that we’re all making,” said Lilly. “The things that we’re emphasizing are: travel is incredibly dangerous, the governor [Governor Larry Hogan] has strongly, in the strongest of language advised against it, and then large gatherings, large indoor gatherings. The governor has said 25, but certainly, all gatherings have potential risk involved.”

Dillon advised students going home to follow the Center for Disease Control’s Thanksgiving guidelines. Additionally, the university will test any students returning to campus after Thanksgiving break. 

As of Nov. 12, Dillon and Lilly do not believe the rise in cases will have an effect on protocols for the rest of the fall semester or on the university’s plans for Spring 2021. However, they explained that the rise in cases all across Maryland and the rest of the United States could alter how UMBC handles the virus.

“We are looking at sort of how we respond [to the increase in cases], but it’s about refining. It’s not about making major changes,” said Lilly.

With the last day of classes only four weeks away, Lilly and Dillon said the university is reviewing the fall COVID-19 protocols and what will work in the future since students will return to campus in the middle of what the CDC expects to be a rise in COVID-19 cases this winter.

“We’re monitoring the situation,” said Lilly, adding “we do have contingency plans should particular problem areas emerge, and we’ve discussed what those pivots would look like.”