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'Stay in place' order issued for GVSU students as cases rise

The university has seen 740 cases in the student population since Aug. 1, per University officials.

ALLENDALE, Mich. — Ottawa County's health official has ordered a 'stay in place' order for all Grand Valley State University students living on or off campus in Allendale.

Per the order from Ottawa County Department of Public Health, students are to remain in their designated residence at all times for 14 days beginning at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 17 and ending at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 1. Students cannot return to their home address unless it's an emergency, the order states. 

The university has seen more than 600 cases in the student population since Aug. 23, per the health department. According to GVSU's data dashboard, there has been 740 cases within the university community since Aug. 1. 

There are 370 active cases related to GVSU. That includes 4 faculty cases, 48 on-campus students and 273 off-campus students. There are 277 people on the quarantine list. 

"Not just endangering people at Grand Valley, but endangering other people," said Marcia Mansaray, the Deputy Health Admin with the Ottawa County Health Department. "If it gets bad enough, and it's almost there, that it raises the whole county's metrics, then we have to start doing things like shutting down our court systems and all that. So, it's really a serious thing."

Cases linked to GVSU in the past three weeks have made up a third of the overall cases in Ottawa County. 

"Case rates per million have continued to rise, indicating disease spread among GVSU students and rates have exceeded maximum indicator thresholds for risk to the community. The majority of cases are among off-campus students and appear to be driven by congregate living and congregate gathering," a release from OCDPH read.

University officials said contract tracing shows the virus is spreading not in the classroom, buses or on campus facilities. Rather, it is spreading among small gatherings, with four to six people. 

Also, the University's president attributed the unviersity's aggressive testing procedures as the reason for the high case count. According to the state's reporting, GVSU is seeing the highest number of cases linked to an outbreak among universities or K-12 schools. 

"Our testing program is focused on containment," said Philomena Mantella, GVSU's President. "That's the objective. We're going to test as much as we can, we're going to look for hot spots and retest. We're less concerned about how our numbers appear, and more concerned that our numbers are doing the job."

During a press conference, Mantella said GVSU Public Safety will increase patrols. Violations of the 'stay in place' order goes against the student code of conduct. However, discipline will not be the first line of action. 

"It could mean anything from probation, suspension, to expulsion, all of those things are possible," said Mantella. "But we don't begin there. We begin with presuming that most people are struggling as we all are, with the requirements and kind of life as we know it today." 

OCDPH also said GVSU cases include few contacts, and in some cases, those who test positive have refused to give contacts. 

“Based on epidemiological data and the expertise of public health officials, the increased numbers of GVSU cases may adversely impact other communities, services and businesses in the county," said Lisa Stefanovsky, OCDPH public health officer. "GVSU has worked collaboratively with us in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and we truly appreciate their support as we work through this.”

GVSU officials held a press conference Wednesday regarding the university's response to COVID-19. Watch it here. 

Staying in place requires students to not gather or socialize in groups, with the following list of exceptions:

  • Attend in-person classes, including labs and physical education classes with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Leave their room or residence to pick up food and other basic needs, go to medical appointments, pick up medication, attend religious practice activities or to obtain COVID-19 testing with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Attend work with the approval of the employer if the work is essential and cannot be done remotely with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Have clinical rotations, student teaching or other off-campus experiential learning assignments to continue only with approval from the college dean and disclosure to the organization of placement and renewed approval by that organization with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Leave their room or residence for purposes of physical activity in groups of no more than two with strict adherence to preventive measures.
  • Although strongly discouraged by OCPHD during the term of this order, if GVSU specifically authorizes students who are associated with intercollegiate varsity sports, they may attend practices provided a currently licensed physician is present during the entire process, actively supervises the team’s COVID-19 mitigation activities during the practice and has the final authority to suspend the practice if he or she believes COVID-19 mitigation practices require that result.

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