ALLENDALE, MI – Grand Valley State University has the highest number of active coronavirus cases among all universities in Michigan, new data shows.
The school of about 28,000 students has reported a total of 394 active cases in students, faculty and staff, as of Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to the university’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
That’s more than triple the 123 total cases that were reported just one week earlier.
Data shows 90 percent of the university’s positive cases are in off-campus students. Near-campus students, or those who live within a mile of campus, make up 212 of the university’s positive cases; “other students,” or those who live further than a mile from campus, make up 144 cases.
There have been 35 on-campus students who tested positive for COVID-19, as well as two staff members and one faculty member, data shows.
Coronavirus cases have surged at Grand Valley since the university welcomed students back during move-in week between Aug. 23-27. The university started the fall semester Aug. 31 and is offering a mix of in-person and virtual classes.
The university’s seven-day average of daily new cases has risen steadily, more than doubling over the past week. GVSU averaged about 20 new cases per day on Sept. 1, compared to its current average of about 45 new cases per day.
About one-fourth of the 394 positive cases were identified through the university’s testing efforts in partnership with Spectrum Health. University leaders announced in August that GVSU would conduct random coronavirus testing on students, faculty and staff this fall as a way to find any virus “hot spots.”
GVSU conducted 2,843 coronavirus tests on campus between Aug. 21 and Sept. 1. Data from tests conducted after Sept. 2 is not yet available, according to the university’s dashboard.
Of the 394 total cases, 95 were identified through GVSU’s testing partnership with Spectrum Health. That means the majority of student cases were identified through testing by local health departments and reported to GVSU.
Grand Valley’s main campus in Allendale falls under the jurisdiction of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, while other parts of the university are within the Kent County Health Department.
Most COVID-19 spread at Grand Valley has occurred between roommates in off-campus housing, health experts have found. The Ottawa County Department of Public Health is finding a number of “small clusters” in apartments or households with GVSU students, said senior epidemiologist Derel Glashower.
“As we move forward, one of our primary focuses is going to be making sure (students who test positive) are isolated and focusing on contacts to give high priority to roommates and other close contacts, especially in a living situation because it can spread faster in those kinds of environments,” he told MLive Wednesday.
Glashower declined to say how many GVSU students have tested positive for COVID-19 through the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.
Ottawa County was identified as one of eight counties in Michigan with higher rates of coronavirus transmission, most due to outbreaks among university students. Ottawa County was moved from a code yellow to code orange, signaling heightened concern over COVID-19 spread.
RELATED: Wednesday, Sept. 9, coronavirus data by Michigan county: Eight counties at red or orange
Grand Valley’s updated case count makes it the public university with the most active COVID-19 cases in the state right now. Other universities like Michigan State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan have reported less than 200 positive cases.
But health experts at GVSU attribute that to discrepancies in reporting procedures between universities. When asked why Grand Valley has the highest reported positive cases among universities across the state, Vice Provost of Health Jean Nagelkerk said each university has flexibility in reporting its cases.
“At this time, Michigan public universities are not all publicly reporting the same metrics for testing or positive cases,” she in a prepared statement to MLive Sept. 9. “GVSU is updating its dashboard at the end of each business day.”
“We anticipated that we would see an increase in positive cases as we have a robust testing program for our campus community that includes random, high-risk and targeted testing of students, faculty and staff to mitigate risk for our community and provide support and resources for those who test positive.”
Many colleges across the state and nationwide have reported rising COVID-19 case numbers since they re-opened and welcomed students back to school for the fall. But school leaders have taken a variety of different approaches to try and slow the spread of the novel respiratory virus.
Michigan State University switched to virtual classes Aug. 18 and urged students to stay home this fall in an effort to avoid spread of COVID-19. Still, many students did return to East Lansing, and coronavirus cases have spiked among students who had already moved into off-campus housing.
Since Aug. 30, 124 students at MSU have tested positive for COVID-19, many of whom were exposed to the virus when they attended large off-campus gatherings without wearing a mask, the university announced Sept. 8.
RELATED: Moving classes online was best decision for public health, Michigan State University president says
Eastern Michigan University began its fall semester Aug. 31 online, but pushed back its on-campus move-in until Sept. 17, citing the COVID-19 outbreaks. EMU plans to create a public COVID-19 data dashboard this week, but thus far has reported 68 coronavirus cases on campus as of Aug. 31.
Central Michigan University, which has reported 186 cases since June 15, became a hotspot for COVID-19 within a week of re-opening campus on Aug. 17. Administrators responded by threatening to suspend students for attending large parties and suspending all in-person Greek Life activities.
“We expect better from our students and are taking swift corrective and disciplinary action, including fines and suspensions, against students who host or participate in these large parties,” the university said Aug. 22 in a statement provided by Heather L. Smith, executive director of communications.
Grand Valley hasn’t taken the same approach, relying largely on student accountability and education to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Administrators have previously told MLive they are trying to avoid large parties by focusing on educating students about the importance of social distancing amid the pandemic.
“Our primary approach has been, and continues to be, one of education and prevention with health guidance and instructions about how to protect themselves in the community,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Loren Rullman told MLive in late August as students arrived on campus.
Rullman told MLive Sept. 9 that although Grand Valley has modified its code of student conduct to explicitly reference obligations related to COVID-19, “institutional efforts have been and remain primarily educational.”
“Student compliance has been positive with no unexpected increase in referrals to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution,” he said in a prepared statement.
School leaders say they’re going to continue Grand Valley’s educational approach to limiting spread of COVID-19, despite rising case numbers.
“Education is a key element of sharing critical public health information, reinforcing individual behaviors and supporting the campus community,” Nagelkerk said. “(GVSU’s) policies and procedures highlight the importance of decreased density, increased cleaning, social distancing and wearing face coverings.”
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COVID-19 PREVENTION TIPS:
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.
Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.
Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued executive orders requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nosewhile in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. See an explanation of what that means here.
Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
For more data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit https://www.mlive.com/coronavirus/data/.
More on MLive:
Coronavirus cases triple at Grand Valley State University since move-in week
Grand Valley to do random campus coronavirus testing, shift most classes online after Thanksgiving
Grand Valley asks students to track temperature, coronavirus symptoms for 2 weeks before classes start