SIUE officials respond to local TV news report of campus ‘outbreak’

Following a recent article from KSDK (Channel 5) that claimed SIUE was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, university leadership say appropriate safety measures are in place and students should not be concerned about an increase in campus cases ahead of Thanksgiving Break.


Chancellor Randy Pembrook said he wouldn’t use the term ‘outbreak’ to describe the current state of the pandemic on the SIUE campus. The positivity rate for screening tests conducted by SIUE fell at 2.78 percent for Nov. 6-12, according to the university’s COVID Dashboard. This reflects an increase to 29 new cases for the week, up from 14 the previous week.


“If you look back in the last few months, the positivity rates that SIUE has had in our surveillance testing — 1 percent, 2 percent, not even up to 3 percent but between two and three percent — I just don’t think anyone, any in the public health departments [for] the state of Illinois, have used the phrase ‘outbreak’ in terms of those situations,” Pembrook said.


Director of Health Service Riane Greenwalt told The Alestle in an email that she was also surprised by KSDK’s use of the term ‘outbreak,’ especially considering the CDC’s definition of the word. The CDC defines an outbreak as an “increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area.”


Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jeffrey Waple said ‘outbreak’ is also typically used to describe multiple cases stemming from a specific time and location, while positive cases in the SIUE community do not seem to share a common source. 


While SIUE has seen a slight uptick in its number of cases, as the entire state of Illinois has been experiencing a surge, Pembrook said campus positivity rates have still been well below the rates for the region.


“If you look at the overall record since the start of school, there was one period where we went up a little bit in the eighth and ninth week of the semester, and then last week was higher than other [weeks] had been. I think it was probably related to Halloween and some activities related to that,” Pembrook said. “But overall, our percentages, positivity rates have been much lower than the surrounding area.”


More of the university’s on-campus isolation/quarantine space was also used in the past week, up to 12 percent, leaving 88 percent available. Waple said most of this space was being used by students who had had a close contact and were quarantining as a precaution.


“Most of that space will be released. We have students in quarantine because of a close-contact exposure, so that’s not a positive rate,” Waple said. “According to Mallory [Sidarous, director of University Housing], we’ll probably be back in the mid-90s after this week, and when we return from Thanksgiving, we’ll be back to 100.”


Waple attributed the university’s low positivity rates to precautions that have been in place since the start of the pandemic, as well as a number of other factors. However, Waple also acknowledged that positive cases being self-reported means there are likely more cases in the community than the university is aware of.


“There’s probably more faculty and staff that probably have tested positive that maybe have not submitted a self-disclosure form — which, our definition is that you had to be on campus within 48 hours of the positive test,” Waple said. “With most — not all, but most — of our courses remote or virtual, the de-densification of campus, less than 2,000 students living in University Housing, little or no bar scene in town, no fraternity and sorority houses, no college sports playing, there’s not a lot of activity that would put people in large groups or gatherings.”


Due to the recent surge in cases in the Metro East region and throughout the state, SIUE has added more measures to de-densify campus, including canceling all in-person university events and meetings through Dec. 4 and allowing more employees to work from home.

To learn more about positive cases on the SIUE campus and the university’s precautionary measures, visit SIUE’s COVID-19 website.

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