Rider and New Jersey cases continue to rise

By Austin Ferguson

After a semester-high in student positive COVID-19 cases the previous week, Rider matched that high with 19 positive student cases from March 15 to 21, the university’s online dashboard reported on March 23.

Of the 19 positive cases reported for the week ending on March 21, 16 were attributed to on-campus students, eclipsing the highest single-week total of on-campus student positives by three cases set the week prior.

Rider’s dashboard also reported new semester highs in quarantine and isolation numbers, with as many as 35 students in quarantine and 23 students in isolation as of March 19.

Of those numbers, the dashboard indicated that student quarantine numbers were weighted toward students doing so off-campus, with 23 students quarantined outside of campus, while the split between on-and-off campus isolations was more balanced, with 13 and 10 students isolated on-and-off campus respectively.

According to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning and Secretary to the Board Debbie Stasolla, the uptick in positive cases from March 8 to 14 was attributed to both the general student population and student-athletes but an increased focus on contact tracing within student-athlete circles led to a rise in quarantine and isolation numbers to skew toward on-campus students.

“Last week, we had tested an additional group of students in [Rider] athletics in order to see if we could find any more additional cases that we might not be aware of through contact tracing,” Stasolla said. “So we [tested those students last week] and we did not feel the need to do that this week because we feel we’re at the tail end of all of those close contacts that are related to some of the original positive cases.”

Updated quarantine and isolation numbers from March 23 corroborated Stasolla’s statement, as quarantine numbers dropped from 35 to 29, while isolation numbers went down from 23 to 17.

The university’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases mirrored an overall trend in the state of New Jersey for positive cases, as the state had the highest positive cases per 100,000 residents in the United States from March 16 to March 23, according to the New York Times.

New Jersey’s COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI), a weekly report that assesses the transmission risk in different regions of the state and a resource the university uses in assessing COVID-19 risk in the campus area, also reflected a recent transition toward a higher risk environment throughout the state.

Mercer County, along with Somerset and Hunterdon County, joined 11 other New Jersey counties in being designated as a high-risk area for COVID-19 transmission from previously being a moderate-risk area, New Jersey’s CALI indicated on March 13.

According to Stasolla, the university met with a New Jersey Department of Health epidemiologist, who investigate disease outbreaks, and Lawrence Township Health officer Carol A. Chamberlain on March 22, as Rider does each week, but the epidemiologist did not indicate any changes in how the state is reacting to COVID-19 response.

Stasolla said that the university’s “conservative” approach to stringently tracing close contacts to positive individuals will continue to be its best tool in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the Rider community.

“The sooner that we can identify close contacts, then the sooner we can get people in quarantine, and perhaps the sooner that we can reduce any further transmission of the virus,” Stasolla said.

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