BYU urges caution after 40 students test positive for COVID-19

PROVO — More than half of the 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported among BYU students during the first week of school are related to a single event, the university said Friday afternoon.

“We currently have 40 cases of COVID-19 reported in our campus community. Many of these have been tied to gatherings both on-campus and off-campus,” said a statement issued on BYU’s official Twitter account. “We again encourage you to avoid non-compliant gatherings, wear masks and stay distanced.”

The statement urged students to follow precautions during the long Labor Day weekend to avoid a shutdown of campus classes.

“As we move into this long weekend, please be wise and follow all safety requirements on campus, and follow all city and county mandates off campus,” the statement said. “Please compassionately encourage your friends and roommates to do the same.”

One undisclosed event apparently accounts for 24 of the cases, the statement said, though it didn’t say what the event was.

“We have 24 students in Helaman Halls who were exposed to COVID-19 at a gathering where physical distancing wasn’t maintained,” the BYU statement said. “These students were instructed to quarantine. We’ll continue to ask students to quarantine if they attend gatherings where they may have been exposed.”

A BYU professor and students wear masks and socially distance on the first day of classes for the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Alyssa Dahneke, BYU

Utah County had 148 new cases Thursday, the most in Utah. The county has had 48 deaths and 511 hospitalizations among a total of 11,318 total cases, according to the county health department’s dashboard.

BYU’s cases increased from one on Tuesday to 11 on Wednesday to 40 on Thursday.

BYU implemented a broad array of measures to ensure the safety of students and faculty, including requiring daily check-ins and masks on campus. However, the quick rise of infections among students is threatening the school’s ability to maintain its plan to provide a hybrid schedule for fall semester that alternates between in-class and online instruction until Thanksgiving, after which all classes will move online for the rest of the semester.

“We’re encouraged so many are following requirements on campus,” the BYU statement said. “However, we’re concerned (with) reports & videos circulating about off-campus activities. Behavior this weekend could make or break our ability to remain on campus.”

BYU officials said they do not have a threshold number of cases at which they automatically would shut down classes on campus and move to online-only instruction. Instead, they said they will weigh multiple factors, include the spread of the virus on and off campus, the capacity of local hospitals and the university’s ability to isolate or quarantine infected students living on campus.

BYU has had 243 total COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

The university confirmed 21 infections during the winter semester, which was interrupted March 12 after the pandemic was declared and was completed through online-only instruction. The first positive test for a BYU student was announced March 23. That student had lived off campus and returned home.

Another 16 students tested positive during the spring term while 166 tested positive during the summer term.

BYU students wear masks as they walk on campus on the first day of fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Tyler Richardson, BYU

BYU is conducting randomized testing on students and employees.

All BYU students, faculty and staff were required to complete safety training and download and use the Healthy Together App by Monday, which was the first day of classes. The app does not a student’s or employee’s location but it does track proximity to other users of the app to help with contact tracing.

Every day, each BYU student also must obtain a daily campus passport through the Healthy Together app to attend campus classes. The passport requires students to complete a daily checkup questionnaire and professors are authorized to verify they have completed it.

Supervisors are authorized to check that employees have completed the checkup, too.

Students also have used sanitary wipes to clean armrests and desk surfaces in their classrooms.

Friday’s statement said BYU is reviewing reports of noncompliant students through the Dean of Students Office.

It also said, “We condemn any kind of shaming or bullying surrounding compliance or noncompliance. Let’s work through this together, with compassion. We can still maintain an on-campus experience, if we can all do our part.”

Despite facing significant pandemic-related financial losses, BYU and the other universities and colleges owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned down more than $54.1…

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