October 9, 2020
Dear Boise State Community Members,
I write to you in response to the White House Task Force’s recent report that suggests due to positivity rates (the rate of positive test results as a percentage of the total number of tests administered) among 18-24 year olds, that the University of Idaho, Boise State, and BYU-Idaho consider shifting to online learning.
According to the report, “test positivity in 18-24 year olds is 80.7% in Latah County (University of Idaho), 22.9% in Madison County (Brigham Young University-Idaho), 15.6% in Ada County (Boise State University) and 10.3% in Bannock County (Idaho State University).” The report, which was issued on Oct. 4, 2020, reflects positivity rates for Sept. 27-Oct. 2.
As reflected in our COVID dashboard, the total number of positive cases reported this week dropped from 97 to 53, a reduction of almost half over last week. The late September peak may well be the result of an increase in infections attributable to Labor Day gatherings, coupled with an increase in surveillance testing of asymptomatic residential students.
As you know, Boise State has responded to this complex situation by creating a public health office, collaborating with our local healthcare systems, and working very closely with Central District Health (CDH) to keep our campus community healthy. Our testing protocols, which now include asymptomatic testing, have allowed us to reduce risk on campus, and, indeed, we have not identified a single case of classroom spread. The classroom continues to be one of the safest places our community can be.
BOISE STATE’S COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH
In addition to the recommendation to shift to online learning, the White House Task Force report also recommends:
- Expanded testing
- Reinforcing physical distancing, masking and other public health prevention strategies
- Implementing wastewater testing protocols to target testing
- Implementing stringent mitigation strategies in congregate living settings
- Increasing contact tracing efforts
Prior to the issuance of the report, Boise State already had implemented, or was in the process of implementing, each of these recommendations. Notably:
- Boise State just received CLIA certification of its COVID testing lab. This lab, located on our campus, has capacity to run approximately 1,000 PCR tests per day, with plans to scale up to approximately 4,000 tests per day.
- The university retained additional staff to assist with enforcing facial covering, physical distancing and other public health protocols in areas reporting concerns, including the ILC, Library, SUB and Rec Center.
- In cooperation with Health and Welfare, CDH, and Boise State faculty and public health staff, the university is developing plans to begin wastewater testing to monitor facility infection rates, which will help inform testing strategies.
- The Public Health office has hired and trained more than 30 new contact tracers, nursing and allied health staff to help mitigate and respond to infections.
In addition to these strategies, the university is in almost daily contact with CDH. We have a robust network of infectious disease, research, medical and public health professionals with whom we regularly consult in an ongoing effort to keep our campus safe and healthy.
In-person instruction gives students the opportunity to make connections with faculty, staff, and peers that we know are so critical to our students’ academic success and mental health. Our contact tracers have not identified any outbreaks tied to classroom exposure. Data supports that the classroom is the safest place for our community because of our university’s widespread compliance with public health measures and our comprehensive institutional approach to campus wellbeing.
For these reasons, at this time, our advisors have not recommended that the university shift to remote learning. Instead, we will continue to carefully monitor the situation and respond accordingly.
NEW TESTING PROTOCOLS
With the opening of our campus CLIA COVID testing lab, the university now has capacity to begin mass surveillance testing of asymptomatic students, faculty and staff.
As we dramatically increase the number of tests administered, the total number of positive test results will increase as well. Such an outcome will make us more safe, not less, because it will allow us to take actions that decrease potential spread of the virus from asymptomatic individuals.
We will not avoid testing in order to artificially suppress our numbers. As the White House report indicates, it is critical to the success of our public health efforts that we identify and isolate asymptomatic members of our community to ensure that they aren’t unknowingly spreading the virus to others.
We take COVID and the spread of this virus very seriously, and you should too. There is cause for concern. As community infection rates rise, it is more important than ever that each of us follow the public health protocols with which you are all familiar, including:
- Wearing facial coverings indoors at all times and outdoors when you cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others.
- Avoid gathering in groups — most infections are transmitted at small gatherings (house parties, barbeques) of individuals who are not maintaining appropriate physical distance. Infections are most often spread by people who are asymptomatic, thus not aware they are putting others at risk.
- If you feel sick, do not leave your home or residence hall until you have been advised by the Public Health office.
COMMITMENT TO PUBLIC HEALTH
Our public health staff and university administrators are monitoring this situation closely. We understand that the situation may change rapidly, and we will continue to consult with CDH and medical professionals to determine if all students need to return to virtual learning or if additional measures may be necessary to continue in-person instruction.
Since we first closed our doors in March, our university has been wholly dedicated to providing a safe environment where our students, faculty and staff can thrive during this public health crisis. Thanks to these thorough, innovative and reasoned planning efforts — and the dedication of all our community members — we have managed what seemed impossible a short time ago.
We will remain data-driven, disciplined, and vigilant going forward. We will take nothing for granted and will continue to provide the unique and excellent experience for which Boise State University is known — no matter which public health steps we must take in the future.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact the Public Health office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 426-2968. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to the health and wellbeing of our community.
Alicia Estey, JD, MPH
VP for Compliance, Legal, Public Health and Audit