Palm Beach Atlantic University concludes second week of COVID-19 campus testing
Palm Beach Atlantic University concluded its second week of on-campus COVID-19 testing on Friday, Aug. 28. While the university’s encouraging emails have comforted students under the notion that “all is going as planned,” the efficacy of PBA’s viral prevention plan may reveal otherwise.
According to PBA President Dr. Debra Schwinn’s campus wide email sent on Aug. 28, after a sum of 10 days, the university tested a “majority” of the student body using polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests, locating viral genetic material through nasal swabs.
With at least 3,000 West Palm Beach campus attendees, not including graduate and evening students, the number of tested students can be presumed to be at least 2,500. This leaves at least 500 untested students who have yet to be accounted for. This number is contingent on what the president means by “majority,” though the number of unaccounted students is likely to be in the hundreds.
Of those tested so far, 22 have positively tested for COVID-19 while Schwinn added that nine of those previously infected students have been released and are “doing well.” A previous email sent by Schwinn on Aug. 21 also confirmed at least 15 students are in quarantine.
Students with positive results are currently held in isolation at designated housing facilities on campus.
Schwinn reassured that students are “generally comfortable and are being well cared for.” As part of ensuring their comfort, isolated students have access to meal delivery, HyFlex for remote learning and daily Zoom check-ins with the president herself.
Though the detection of COVID-19 positive students may have been “expected,” according to Peeling, the gravity of the situation lies in the fact that a single COVID-19 case has the ability to double, if not triple, reproduction within days of contraction.
COVID-19 has a reproduction number, the number of subsequent cases attributable to a single case, between “2.2 to 2.7” with a “doubling time” of at least six days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For PBA, given the 22 confirmed cases, this means there are at least 44 total positive cases on campus, with half of this total being unaccounted for. If the (at least) 15 students in quarantine are also positive, this adds an additional 30 possible positive cases to the preexisting 22, totaling at least 50 possible cases on campus as of last week alone.
This number does not account for asymptomatic students who contracted COVID-19 prior to the start of fall classes and have not been tested yet.
Given the virus’ doubling time, PBA’s known case numbers are expected to double by the end of this week.
The interim between contraction and symptom reveal puts the university at an additional disadvantage, constantly keeping administration and health officials two weeks behind. The incubation period prior to the display of COVID-19 symptoms and subsequent contraction confirmation in symptomatic individuals makes almost all data collection inaccurate because
cumulative cases continue to rise while the prior week’s cases are still being accounted for.
With hundreds of PBA’s students yet to be tested and a possible reproduction total beginning in the teens, there is an undeniable probability of community spread after only the first week of live instruction. This information begs the question as to whether PBA can sustain its preventive protocol.
A new study by the Yale School of Public Health confirms that students would need to be tested “every two to three days for colleges to safely reopen.” The virus’ rate of infection and the prevalence of “silent spreaders” necessitate frequent testing to stay ahead of the incubation period.
The study argues that “waiting to see symptoms” is ineffective and perpetuates viral transmission.
PBA’s current preventative protocol has required over a week to test the entirety of the student body -- a population fewer than 3,800 students. The school lacks the resources or the manpower to test at the rate required to regulate viral spread, given the amount of time it is taking to test all students only once.
With the university’s positive case total predicted to double this week, students and administration may begin to understand the need to mandate a greater rate of testing and rely less on symptom display as a means of finalizing a diagnosis.
By Haley Hartner