Rider student coronavirus cases at all-semester high

By Austin Ferguson

Rider returned it’s highest single-week positive COVID-19 case total of the spring 2021 semester from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, the university’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated on March 2.

In the span from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, 17 positive cases were confirmed by Rider, 16 of which came from students. The student total is the first time this semester that at least 10 students tested positive for COVID-19 in a single week, and the total case numbers are the second-highest all-time weekly total at the university, only being eclipsed by 31 student positive cases between Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2020.

Rider Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning and Secretary to the Board Debbie Stasolla said that the increase of cases, which are a “mixture of some student athletes across multiple teams and our general student population,” does not yet appear to be a cluster or spike of cases at the university.

“So far, we have not determined any commonality among [the cases],” Stasolla said. “As we learn more through our contact-tracing work, we may have to reconsider that, but so far we’re not seeing, out of those 16 cases… anything in the way of commonality.”

Stasolla added that, as the university has shown in the past after an increase of cases lead to focused testing in Hill Hall in the Fall 2020 semester, it is ready to make changes should any patterns in positive cases or exposure appear.

“[If] we suspect that there may be any commonality, we will make changes in our protocols,” Stasolla said. “We will institute other measures if we suspect that we need to learn more about cases to see if there is indeed commonality that we have not been able to determine in our contact tracing.”

One measure the university already had in place has been a weekly meeting that, according to Stasolla, includes herself, Rider Student Health Center Director Elizabeth Luciano, Head Athletic Trainer Tim Lengle, Associate Dean of Students and Lead Contact Tracer Chris Botti, Lawrence Township Health Officer Carol A.

Chamberlain and a New Jersey Department of Health epidemiologist, who are often called “disease detectives,” to analyze weekly case data at the university and address any at-large issues with COVID-19 spread as needed.

A semester-high 30 students were in quarantine between Feb. 22 and Feb. 28, with 20 of those students quarantining off-campus, according to Rider’s online dashboard. Off-campus quarantine numbers have since increased to 25 as of March 2, though a seven-student decrease in on-campus quarantining brought the overall total number of students in quarantine down to 28.

Stasolla said that through contact tracing and testing, the university was prepared for an eventual increase in positive cases, especially given the colder weather of the first half of the semester.

“We’re definitely always prepared. It doesn’t come as a surprise at this point in the semester, given that it’s cold out and we’re all kind of inside most of the time, that we would see an increase in cases,” Stasolla said.

Between March 1 and March 2, the university dashboard confirmed one positive COVID-19 case, coming from an off-campus student.

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