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Southern Nevada colleges see COVID-19 uptick, but numbers still low

Updated October 16, 2020 - 4:48 pm

Southern Nevada colleges and universities have seen a slight uptick in weekly reports of COVID-19 cases among students, but numbers still remain low overall.

UNLV, which has more than 31,000 students, has reported 240 cases among students and employees since the pandemic began. Of those, 32 cases — 29 of which were students — were reported for the week ending Friday.

For two straight weeks, the number of student cases — 29 each week — has been the largest of any week since early June, which is the oldest information included in UNLV’s online weekly coronavirus reports.

“We have seen an increase the last couple of weeks, but the number of cases we’re seeing is in line with the rates we’re seeing in the community,” said UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus, who serves on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 medical advisory team.

Southern Nevada Health District data shows the age group with the highest rate of infection is 18- to 24-year-olds, Labus said. “In our community, young people are getting infected most frequently.”

The Nevada Hospital Association said last week there is an increase statewide in the number of patients with COVID-19 who are hospitalized.

“It is too early to clearly define, however this could be signaling either the beginning of a fall resurgence or the profound apathy of the general public coupled with poor masking and social distancing etiquette,” the association said in a statement. But the association said hospital infrastructure remains in good condition and is not at risk of oversaturation.

As for Nevada colleges and universities, they are reporting COVID-19 case numbers on their websites, but that doesn’t mean those who tested positive contracted the virus while on campus. And most classes are being held remotely.

UNLV cases

UNLV is offering about 80 percent of classes remotely for the fall semester. The university recently announced it plans to stick with a similar mix of in-person and remote classes for spring semester, and in-person classes will continue to be capped at 50 students.

Of UNLV’s 240 reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, 193 were among students, 33 among staff and 14 among faculty, according to the university’s website.

COVID-19 cases in residence halls at UNLV are driving some cases, but “we’re not seeing a lot of widespread disease,” Labus said. It may also be easier to identify cases among students living in residence halls because they are in need of accommodations such as having food delivered, he said.

In a message last week to students and employees, UNLV President Keith Whitfield thanked them for their efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“The traditional flu season is upon us and the holidays are around the corner,” he wrote. “That, combined with the growing urgency to have things ‘return to normal,’ makes the likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 possible in Southern Nevada. We cannot and should not let our guard down and ignore the public health guidelines we’ve been following.”

He said he recognizes that all of this “can be exhausting and stressful, but the most effective action we can all take right now is prevention.”

COVID-19 cases at other colleges

College of Southern Nevada, which has 27,000 students and three Las Vegas Valley campuses, has reported 83 cases since March 1, and of those, 69 were students. That’s according to figures from Oct. 9 on the Nevada System of Higher Education’s website, which hadn’t been updated by Friday afternoon.

The college reported 16 cases from Oct. 5-9, all affecting students, but none since then, according to its website.

Trends in COVID-19 case numbers at CSN reflect what’s happening in the community, said Patty Charlton, vice president and provost for CSN’s Henderson campus.

As a community college, students are typically from the Las Vegas Valley and aren’t coming from out-of-state, with the exception of international students, she said. The college also doesn’t have any residence halls.

Similar to this semester, CSN will probably continue offering about 85 percent of its classes remotely during spring semester, Charlton said.

Nevada State College in Henderson, which has more than 5,500 students, has reported 27 cases since March 1. Of those, 24 were among students. Figures are from Oct. 9 on NSHE’s website.

The college has reported seven student cases since Oct. 6, according to the school’s website. But one of those students who had a presumed positive case based on a rapid test ended up receiving a negative result on a different test shortly thereafter. And many of the students who recently tested positive have not been on campus since spring semester.

COVID-19 case trends at Nevada State College also mirror what Southern Nevada is facing — perhaps a slight uptick, said Edith Fernandez, vice president of college and community engagement.

She said the college’s cases have come in small spurts during the pandemic. “We’re glad we’re in a good position.”

A couple of weekends ago — an opening date that was pushed back due to construction delays — 38 students moved into the college’s first campus housing. The 342-bed facility, The Village at Nevada State College, is an approximately $33 million project that’s privately financed, built and managed.

For spring semester, the college plans to offer about 85 percent of its credits online — the same percentage as this semester. In-person classes will continue to be primarily labs.

“We want to keep with that ratio,” Fernandez said. “It’s worked for us.”

The University of Nevada, Reno — which has about 20,700 students — has seen significantly higher COVID-19 case numbers than its Southern Nevada counterparts, with 631 among students and 42 among faculty/staff since the pandemic began, according to NSHE’s website. Figures are from Oct. 9.

“What they’re seeing at UNR is very different because they’re in a very different situation,” Labus said.

UNR is a residential campus with different risks than UNLV, he said. UNR has about 2,400 students living in residence halls this semester, compared with about 1,000 at UNLV.

For the week ending Oct. 9, UNR saw 50 coronavirus cases — 47 of which were among students, according to the university’s website. That’s down more than half compared with the 111 cases the previous week.

UNR announced earlier this month it will switch to fully remote instruction after Thanksgiving for the rest of the fall semester. The school also won’t have fans at its football season opener Oct. 24 against Wyoming at Mackay Stadium, with the exception of family members of athletes. And the university has closed its E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center for the rest of the semester.

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

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