COVID Sig

Multiple clusters of COVID-19 cases have been identified on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus, but university officials declined to release where they are, how many there are and how large they are. 

Deb Fiddelke, UNL’s chief communications and marketing officer, said the university will not report this information because the scale of response has changed dramatically since the first outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, when the health department identified one, entire housing units needed to be shut down because vaccines weren’t available,” she said, “and so anyone visiting that place needed to know that the entire house was under quarantine. That’s not necessary. So there’s no public health reason to put that information out there.” 

The university publicly identified 14 clusters during the fall 2020 semester — the last on Oct. 7.  Official quarantine notices were sent out to the UNL community for these clusters in the fall and there was an “outbreak” and mandated quarantine in spring 2021. No quarantine notices have been sent since May 1, 2021.

Clusters are considered to be groups of 5 or more individuals that have COVID-19 in the same time frame and in close proximity, Fiddelke said. 

UNL’s testing has returned a 10.57% positivity rate across 23,280 tests between Jan. 9, when mandatory re-entry testing began for all students, faculty and staff, and Jan. 19, according to the UNL COVID-19 Dashboard

Lancaster County’s risk dial remains in the red and area hospital capacity is still stretched thin. A mask mandate has recently returned to Lincoln after briefly ending in December. 

Positivity rates have been slightly higher in residence halls and Greek housing, Fiddelke said, which is why students living on campus will be required to test again next week. 

Conversations have been ongoing between the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and UNL’s COVID-19 Task Force since the onset of the pandemic, Fiddelke said, but she declined to give the names of the individuals involved in those conversations. 

Fiddelke said there is no reason for students living in Greek houses and residence halls to be concerned about the extra round of testing. 

“If we were concerned we would be taking much more dramatic steps than just asking them to test next week,” she said. “But we were seeing positivity rates that were higher, and so it merited testing that population to ensure we’ve contained the spread.” 

By setting up the ability to do it’s own saliva-based testing, Fiddelke said, the university has given itself a leg up against the omicron variant, because tests do not need to be sent to an outside laboratory. 

Students should wear a KN95, N95 or double mask when they are around other students for more than 15 minutes, she said, as well as social distance and continue to be mindful. 

“It was wonderful when all of us could let our guards down for a little while,” Fiddelke said. “This isn’t the time. You need to step that back up, you need to keep it up for a little bit and be really, really vigilant, and … we will get through this.” 

When asked about students and professors that are concerned about exposure from being on campus, Fiddelke pointed to the same approaches UNL has employed throughout the pandemic, as well as the addition of booster vaccine doses. 

The university will have two vaccination clinics on Wednesday, Jan. 26. They will be held in the Nebraska Union Ballroom from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and in the East Nebraska Union Prairie Suite from 3-5 p.m.

“Yes, we have a 10% positivity rate,” she said, “but that also means we’ve had about a 90% non-positivity rate. Most of the people, the vast majority of the people you might encounter on campus, have tested and have tested negative.” 

news@dailynebraskan.com

This is a developing story.

Zach Wendling contributed to the reporting of this article.