As the calendar turns to October, a comprehensive approach by Ball State University continues to minimize the spread of COVID-19. It is critical that all students, staff, and faculty—as well as future Cardinals everywhere—understand our institution’s progress and approach.
“The data now and for the past four weeks is trending positively,” Ball State University President Geoffrey S. Mearns said. “We have consistent data that indicates our efforts are working.
“That said, we remain vigilant,” Mearns continued. “We continue to deploy necessary safety protocols on campus—wearing masks, washing hands, physical distancing, and avoiding large gatherings, both on and off campus. And with increased testing and contact tracing capacity, we have the protocols and resources necessary to continue to mitigate the spread of the disease.”
Since Sept. 14, COVID-19 testing offered through IU Health—only for symptomatic patients—has resulted in just four positive cases of COVID-19 in the Ball State community. In that same timeframe, IU Health has conducted 104 tests on symptomatic individuals, which translates into a positivity rate of just 3.8%. When including all testing, Ball State currently has just 21 presumed active cases of COVID-19 among students and 1 presumed active case among employees. Those totals are their lowest since classes began on Aug. 24, and the total caseload is less than 10 percent of the active caseload at some peer institutions in Indiana.
“These facts strongly suggest that our protocols are having a significant positive impact in reducing the risk of the virus on our campus for both students and employees,” Mearns said.
In consultation with a panel of public health experts, for the last several weeks, the University has offered nearly 2,000 COVID-19 testing appointments weekly. For symptomatic students and staff, IU Health provides at least 100 daily COVID-19 testing appointments seven days a week, eight hours per day at the University’s Health Center and IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. For asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals, Open Door Health Services provides 400 COVID-19 testing appointments per day on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at Worthen Arena on campus.
“Our panel of medical experts, with whom we confer daily, continue to affirm our approach is consistent with their recommendations,” Mearns said.
In addition to testing capacity, the University has increased its ability to promptly contact trace when positive cases are discovered. Those efforts have impeded the spread of the disease.
“We have trained 168 volunteers on contact tracing, and we have hired 28 part-time employees to carry out those efforts, which are happening seven days a week,” said Loren Malm, Vice President for Information Technology at Ball State. “At present, contact tracing protocols typically happen within an hour of when we are notified of a new positive test, and our contact tracing protocols are often completed in a similar time frame.”
In total, Ball State’s efforts have been lauded by local health officials. Mearns shared with the University’s Board of Trustees in mid September that Delaware County Health Department Administrator Jammie Bane noted the University has done “a remarkable job.” Regarding Ball State’s increased capacity for testing and contact tracing. Bane went on to say, “Ball State is doing these tasks quicker and more efficiently than standard state contact tracing has done, which is very beneficial in reducing the risk of spread in a timely manner.”
On campus, the consensus regarding the University’s comprehensive effort is a positive one.
“I am pleased with the progress our institution has shown in the last four weeks,” said Tarek Mahfouz, Associate Dean of the College of Architecture and Planning and President of University Senate. “As positive caseload continues to decline, students and staff alike are finding themselves more comfortable in our learning environment. I appreciate leadership for the consistent, thoughtful vigilance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Since Monday Sept. 14, Ball State University has gone from 171 active cases to 22, a drop of more than 87%. For residential students who do test positive, the University continues to provide necessary amenities to stop the spread of the disease. Currently, 97% of isolation space and 98% of quarantine space remains available.