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Catawba College sees expected spike in positive cases after students return

SALISBURY — Catawba College reported a jump in COVID-19 cases upon beginning classes this semester, but the campus is still in the clear to continue operating, according to school officials.

The jump in total cases was attributed to campus-wide testing before the beginning of classes, tested in advance and self-reported cases. Testing was required for athletics as well. Dean of Students Jared Tice said students who were still in isolation when classes began were included in the count.

In one night, from Jan. 24 to 25, the lifetime number of cases in students jumped from 41 to 60. In the days since, cases have risen to 74. The number of staff positives rose from three to four. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 14 students in on-campus quarantine, four in isolation and six employees in quarantine

Tice said all students have been tested during the previous two weeks, but some were tested multiple times, including strict testing requirements for athletes in the pre-season. None of the cases reported when students returned were part of a cluster and students either contracted COVID-19 while they were home for the holidays or while they were off-campus in town.

“We’re having a lot of students tested,” said Catawba Vice President Drew Davis.

Students and employees will be part of random and targeted testing throughout the semester as well.

Davis said the college was expecting case data comparable to the community as positivity rates and overall infections rose. He said the college evaluates its operating status every day. That includes internal factors such as campus infections and external ones such as current capacity at Rowan Medical Center. Right now, there is no concern about keeping the college properly staffed.

“I think we’ll certainly keep the doors open,” Davis said, noting the college is expecting an improvement in case data over the coming weeks.

Tice said the college was anticipating the increases, but found the campus has been less impacted than the greater community in Rowan County. 

Catawba began the semester about two weeks later than a normal year and sent students home earlier than usual in November. The college has eliminated its spring break and moved graduation back a week to compensate for schedule changes.

“We had a very successful start to opening,” Tice said. “We’re really looking forward to a great semester on campus.”

Livingstone College, which also delayed the start to last semester and this semester compared to a normal year, will begin classes next week and is entrance testing its students as well.

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