The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended three Idaho colleges, including the University of Idaho and Boise State University, move instruction online in response to elevated levels of COVID-19 in nearby communities, according to a report from the Idaho Statesman.
Idaho State University was not singled out by the task force. ISU President Kevin Satterlee issued a statement, nonetheless, highlighting the many safeguards in place on campus to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as face covering requirements, distancing protocols and increased sanitization.
“Because of this, our university has been able to offer in-person instruction, as well as a variety of online and hybrid options,” Satterlee said in the statement.
“While we cannot eliminate all risk, we feel confident in our ability to provide the safest campus experience possible. University leadership continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis and are ready to be agile to make adjustments to operations as the public health situation evolves.”
The task force recommended closing colleges in Latah, Madison and Ada counties, which are home to UI, Brigham Young University-Idaho and Boise State University.
“Governor (Brad) Little remains committed to working with Idaho’s universities, public health and local school districts to determine recommendations that work at the local level,” Marissa Morrison, Little’s press secretary, wrote in an email to the Statesman.
The Statesman reported Idaho has a rate of 195 new cases per 100,000 people for the week of Sept. 26, making it the eighth-highest rate in the country. The UI reported 116 positive tests that same week, with many cases tied to a rise in cases among on-campus Greek organizations.
BSU issued a statement on Oct. 9 indicating the campus will continue to monitor the situation rather than shifting to remote learning. According to the BSU press release, the number of positive cases on campus dropped almost by half during the week following the period analyzed in the task force’s report. BSU officials reasoned classrooms are among the safest places in the community.
“As you know, Boise State has responded to this complex situation by creating a public health office, collaborating with our local healthcare systems and working very closely with Central District Health to keep our campus community healthy,” the statement reads. “Our testing protocols, which now include asymptomatic testing, have allowed us to reduce risk on campus, and, indeed, we have not identified a single case of classroom spread.”
Last week, the UI announced it would test its entire student population for a second time following the spike among fraternities and sororities. During that time, instructors have been given authority to choose whether to deliver class in person or online, UI officials said.
UI spokeswoman Jodi Walker said the school will continue with this strategy and decide how to move forward once test results are returned by the end of next week. Walker said the UI is taking the recommendation with a grain of salt. Public health authorities have not traced any of the cases back to UI classrooms, which she said shows health and safety protocols erected by the college are working. Further, she said the task force’s report is based on inaccurate data.
“If you look at the information that’s in there, they are reporting an 80 percent positivity rate for 18- to 24-year-olds, which it’s not hard to realize that’s nowhere close to accurate,” Walker said.
Walker also noted on-campus isolation spaces for those who have been infected or exposed are still well under capacity.
There is no single metric that would cause the UI to shift instruction online abruptly, Walker said. Once the second round of tests are returned, that data will be passed onto medical experts who will consider infection rates against other factors, such as local hospital capacity before making a recommendation.