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Nevada’s higher ed leader says no evidence of ‘campus-based spread’

Updated November 22, 2020 - 3:37 pm

COVID-19 cases have been reported within Nevada’s college and university communities, but there’s virtually no evidence of “campus-based spread,” the state’s higher education leader said last week.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose made the comment during a presentation to the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force.

Roughly 70 percent of instruction at the state’s colleges and universities is currently taking place in a remote format, Rose told the board. She has directed schools to transition to as much remote instruction as possible from Thanksgiving weekend through the end of the fall semester in mid-December.

“This additional direction is intended to limit contact points for students in particular who may travel home, visit family or friends during the holiday break and then return to campus,” Rose said. “We are prepared to pivot again depending on what we see in terms of potential emergent clusters.”

Schools are finalizing plans for the spring semester, Rose said, and that will include a 50-person limit for in-person classroom instruction.

Some schools such as the University of Nevada, Reno are eliminating spring break and others are considering it, she said. UNR — which has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases within NSHE — is also moving to fully remote instruction after Thanksgiving break for the rest of the fall semester.

Case trends have been inconsistent week by week at NSHE’s Southern Nevada schools, Rose told the task force. “Some weeks numbers go up, and the following week they go down.”

Case numbers are more consistently on the rise at Northern Nevada colleges and universities — especially, over the last three weeks, she said.

Colleges and universities are reporting COVID-19 case numbers on their websites, but that doesn’t mean those who tested positive contracted the virus while on campus.

Since March 1, Southern Nevada’s NSHE schools have reported 511 cases among students and 105 among employees. Northern Nevada schools have seen 990 cases among students and 114 among employees.

Rose also reported that she has ordered the creation of a task force on mental health among students and employees. That’s in addition to NSHE’s COVID-19 task force.

As for on-campus housing, NSHE has told colleges and universities that they are not allowed to evict students because of coronavirus-related financial hardships, Rose said.

Caleb Cage, who directs the state’s COVID-19 response — and was an assistant vice chancellor at NSHE until moving into his current role this year — said: “I know that NSHE has been an incredible partner from the very beginning.”

He noted that schools have made contributions toward assisting in pandemic response, including the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at UNR, developing test kits and providing contact tracing.

Felicia Gonzales, deputy superintendent of educator effectiveness and family engagement for the Nevada Department of Education, also provided a brief update to the task force.

Nine Nevada school districts and the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority are participating in the Task Force Initiative for Educators Safety and Screening to provide COVID-19 testing and health monitoring that’s free for school employees through Dec. 31, she said. It’s funded by $13.2 million in federal CARES Act money.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.