Updated: 4:50 p.m. 9/16/20
Students at the Allendale campus of Grand Valley State University have been ordered to remain in their residences for 14 days, with limited exceptions, following a surge of COVID-19 cases on campus.
The public health officer of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health issued the order Wednesday.
There have been 600 cases of COVID-19 reported in the GVSU student population at the Allendale campus since August 24, and the university currently has the highest number of active cases of any school in the state.
The order forbids any gathering or group activities. Students may only leave their dorm room or residence to attend in-person classes, pick up food or supplies, or limited physical activities.
GVSU Chief Financial Officer Greg Sanial is in charge of the University's pandemic response.
He says the main way the virus appears to be spreading isn't big parties.
"A lot of the spread can be attributed to 4, 5, 6 people just getting together in a room, just to hang out," he says."
Sanial adds that many students are not cooperating with contact tracers, or perhaps do not understand exactly what a close contact is. So the University will step up its education efforts about the importance of infected or exposed students disclosing who they have come in close contact with.
He acknowledges it can make students uncomfortable to name names --
"A few months ago, it was uncomfortable to talk about masks," he says. "And I would like to think that we could do the same with contact tracing when we realize how important it is and how it is such a big part of our defense against the spread of the virus."
University President Philomena V. Mantella says student ambassadors will step up their work to remind fellow students of the public health order, and campus police will increase their patrols.
She says the main goal of the patrols is to increase compliance without having to punish anyone, but there remains the possibility of repercussions, for consistent violators, including probation, suspension, or expulsion.
The Ottawa County Public Health Department order strongly discourages intercollegiate varsity sports practices during the 14 day term of the order, but will allow them if a currently licensed physician is present the entire time, actively supervises the practice, and suspends the practice if adequate mitigation steps aren't being taken by the athletes and staff.
“GVSU student interaction with the broader community greatly increases the risk of community disease spread which may result in serious illness or death,” OCDPH medical director Dr. Paul Heidel said in a statement. “We need students to take the ‘Staying in Place’ order seriously and be vigilant to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We commend the GVSU administrative leaders for their partnership and commitment to aggressive disease prevention measures that are essential to help contain the outbreak.”