The University of Maryland, Baltimore County saw an outbreak of seven positive COVID-19 cases in the Patapsco residence hall on Wednesday, Feb. 3. In response, the university placed the entire dorm on a “stay in room” designation and distributed self-swab COVID-19 tests to all residents by 9 a.m. on Feb 4. to complete by 11:30 a.m. Residents who have not received their results will stay in their rooms while those who tested negative are being released from the “stay in room” guidance. Students who already tested positive will continue their 10 day isolation period.
“We don’t have all the results yet but what we are seeing has us optimistic that there has not been additional community spread,” said Director of Community Engagement Marie Lilly regarding the results they were receiving on Feb. 5.
UMBC and the Maryland Department of Health define an outbreak as five or more lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 cases who are epidemiologically linked and who have symptoms within a 14-day period. Epidemiologically linked cases are cases where the spread of COVID-19 can be traced back to contact between positive individuals or inadvertent contact by living or working in the same building. Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Nancy Young stated that three of the seven positive cases were connected through contact tracing, indicating that they were in contact with each other for over 15 minutes, while the remaining five were not direct contacts.
Close contacts of all seven positive individuals are currently undergoing the seven day minimum quarantine period. They will continue to do so for 10 days unless their test results from day five come back negative.
While most of the positive cases were not from close contact with other positive individuals, Young explained that the university wanted to be overly cautious when handling the outbreak. In hopes of getting ahead of any further transmission, Young and the rest of UMBC’s COVID-19 Response Team decided that requiring everyone to stay in their rooms and testing the entire dorm was the best course of action. Additionally, the Baltimore County Health Department assigned someone to work with the university throughout the outbreak.
Based on the contact tracing done by the university, these positive cases are not a result of negligent behavior like attending a party. Instead, Young explained they are from small groups of students gathering in enclosed spaces like lounges, elevators and cars.
“The best of people get bored and want to do things that are human,” said Young. “We’re seeing really human behaviors [and] we just need to educate people a little more about what closed spaces are.”
Young emphasized that there is no shame in students’ need to see their friends and no shame in testing positive for COVID-19.
“No one can keep from getting the virus when you’re living your daily life,” said Young.
However, she advised that students should do everything to ensure they act with caution and safety, even with friends and family they trust.
“Since you can’t tell [that someone has COVID-19] by looking at [them], we have to follow the rules with everyone,” said Young. “Most cars never hit us, but we still look both ways when we cross the street, every time.”
Young stated that double-masking, rolling the windows down in cars and social distancing even if you are with friends are good practices for students to adopt.