DELAWARE COUNTY – Ball State University has reported hundreds of symptomatic students have tested positive for the virus since mid-August but health officials warn it is difficult to imply the campus is to blame for a recent increase in hospitalizations in the area.
Since August 17, roughly 630 symptomatic students have been tested for COVID-19 through IU Health and more than 300 received a positive result.
In addition to testing through IU Health, several students and employees were tested at other locations on campus as well as off-campus locations. More than 650 students tested positive through those means.
The university’s dashboard said that data includes students who tested positive during their re-entry testing protocol, so they were not permitted to come to campus until a healthcare professional cleared them to do so. It also includes students who are only registered for online classes.
Within the first week of classes, the university’s president Geoffrey Mearns sent a letter to students expressing concerns about an increase in the number of students who had tested positive for COVID-19.
He said the increase was not linked to classrooms or dorms but rather the result of “poor personal choices” some students made, primarily off campus.
In that letter, he said he may be compelled to temporarily suspend all on-campus courses or convert to remote instruction almost all on-campus courses for the remainder of the Fall semester.
A few weeks later in mid-September Mearns sent out a new message to students. He said the number of students who tested positive earlier in the month declined significantly, although they continued to make ample testing readily available to students.
“I also know that we cannot completely control this pandemic. But these trends do show that we have the capacity to make an impact – to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus,” Mearns wrote in the letter. “In short, this data is not a cause for celebration. Rather, this data is a call for continued action.”
As the university reports cases on campus, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital said it is seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients.
“Despite seeing increased cases at Ball State, it really has not translated to increases in cases that we are seeing at the hospital,” said Ryan Johnston, Associate Chief Medical Officer of East Central Region for IU Health.
Johnston said very few patients have been students and those cases are not severe. Most patients they are seeing are either age 50 or older.
Health officials and the university are remaining vigilant.
“Certainly, it is in our backyard and we are interested but don’t feel it is significantly affecting us here at the hospitals,” he said.
The Regenstrief Institute is tracking the data and said while the rate of hospitalizations is increasing, it appears it is being managed in Delaware County.
“We are not seeing the highest hospitalization rates that we have seen in Delaware County during the epidemic,” said Shaun Grannis, VP for Data and Analytics at the Regenstrief Institute. “I do think the State Health Department and IU Health are on top of this and managing this.”
Most of the positive cases reported on Ball State’s campus have recovered, according to the university’s dashboard.
The university feels they are making progress and students hope their classmates continue to follow the warnings and guidance.