Washington Square campus sees uptick in COVID-19 cases

As New York State and the city open up, university leadership is asking students to avoid indoor gatherings and crowded events amidst a spike in COVID-19 positivity rates.

The Washington Square campus has seen its number of cases tripled in a short amount of time. The uptick in cases is most likely due to the combination of the state easing restrictions and NYU students not yet qualifying for the vaccine. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

In the past two weeks, the rate of new COVID-19 cases at NYU’s Washington Square campus nearly tripled. Between March 18 and March 29, the test positivity rate on a 14-day rolling average jumped from 0.28% to 0.81%, according to the university’s Testing Dashboard. The total number of positive cases on a rolling two-week basis reached around 350 on Monday, March 29, before dropping back to 332 yesterday. 

Per New York State guidance and regulations, NYU must suspend in-person learning at the Washington Square campus if approximately 683 people test positive on a rolling two-week basis, according to the dashboard. The threshold can change depending on the Washington Square campus population, which is recalculated on a rolling two-week basis.

Although the COVID-19 positivity rate on a weekly average has remained somewhat stable in New York City for the past two weeks, the rate of positive cases at NYU has been steadily increasing. The university’s weekly positivity rate jumped from 0.57%, for the week of March 15 to March 21, to 1.39%, for the week of March 22 to March 28, according to VioletTracker, a public health project unaffiliated with NYU.

“The city is seeing more than 10 times as many new cases per day compared to when we started this academic year,” Carlo Ciotoli, the executive lead of the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team, wrote in a March 31 email to the university community. “Unsurprisingly, NYU is not insulated from this development. Although the levels are not as dramatic as the City’s, the University has had a concerningly high spike of new cases in the last 14-day period.”

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New York State and New York City have eased coronavirus-related restrictions as the COVID-19 vaccination has become increasingly available. According to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, around 17% of the state population has been fully vaccinated, and just over 30% has received at least one dose. 

According to Ciotoli, the uptick in cases is most likely due to the combination of the state easing restrictions and NYU students not yet qualifying for the vaccine. Vaccines will be available to residents of New York who are 16 years old and above starting April 6. However, on-campus spread is most likely due to students socializing without masks or distancing. 

Our case investigation and contact tracing data suggest that many new cases are associated with travel or people spending time with masks off and/or eating with other people,” Ciotoli wrote in an email statement to WSN.

Ciotoli urged students to follow the safety measures and recommendations outlined in his March 18 email, such as wearing masks and social distancing — even if one is vaccinated. His March 31 email asked students to avoid indoor dining, crowded events and inessential travel, continue wearing masks and social distancing and stay away from group fitness classes in indoor spaces. 

NYU is going to proceed more cautiously than the rest of the State in terms of easing restricted activities,” Ciotoli wrote to WSN. “We will continue to enforce robust testing, daily screening of anyone accessing NYU buildings, wearing face coverings, physical distancing, limitations on gatherings, contact tracing, among other health and safety protocols.”

Despite the uptick in cases, the university still plans to return to majority in-person instruction and learning for the Fall 2021 semester so long as public health conditions allow.

“We will of course continue to monitor the situation and communicate more details in the coming months,” Ciotoli told WSN. “[For now,] it’s incredibly important for everyone to continue to follow NYU’s safety and health protocols.”

Email Rachel Fadem at [email protected]

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