Spring semester COVID-19 update

Like much of Indiana, Butler is seeing an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. Photo courtesy of mayoclinic.org. 

RYANN BAHNLINE | STAFF REPORTER | rbahnline@butler.edu 

Butler started the semester with in-person instruction and masks required in indoor spaces on campus. The first COVID-19 dashboard update of the semester on Jan. 14 reported 123 active student cases in addition to 13 active employee cases. 

The face mask requirement is a change from the announcement made in October that stated masks would not be required in non-classroom spaces starting this month. Brent Rockwood, vice president, chief of staff, said the decision to maintain the face mask requirement was made after the Omicron variant started spreading throughout the country. 

Rockwood said the university decided not to make N95 masks required, even though they are proven to be more effective at preventing transmission. N95 masks are available for students to pick up for free in the campus bookstore as well as at the Health and Recreation Complex. 

“We’ve discussed that certainly [N95 requirements] could be a possibility, but as of right now, we didn’t change our requirement … that has to do with access to N95 masks,” Rockwood said. “Thankfully we have supplies, and we know that Omicron right now is spreading rapidly, not just at Butler, but just across the country and that it was the appropriate time to encourage them but short of a requirement.”

Sophomore sports media major, Kylie Wagner, tested positive for COVID-19 over break and said she is a big supporter of getting the vaccine and wearing a mask when you need to. 

“My personal opinion … is that we should just keep wearing masks in class,” Wagner said. “I mean, I’m selfish. I still want to have a social life, I want to be able to hang out with my friends in my sorority, so obviously I want that, but I do want everyone to be safe.” 

The October announcement also said mask requirements at Hinkle Fieldhouse and the Butler Arts and Events Center will be based on Marion County Public Health Department requirements as well as the requirements of the performing artists. 

Wagner said it is a little frustrating to see mass amounts of people go to Hinkle unmasked when recruitment for sororities had to be online due to COVID-19. 

“That’s the one thing that pisses me off the most,” Wagner said. “It’s a money game … you’re seeing 10,000 people going to Hinkle unmasked, but then we had to do recruitment online when we were all going to be wearing masks anyway.” 

In accordance with the latest CDC guidance, Butler requires those who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate for five days if they are asymptomatic or if they have not had a fever for 24 hours and their symptoms are resolving. If those restrictions are not met, the person must complete the 10-day isolation period. 

“The change is supported by scientific research which indicates that the majority of transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one to two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two to three days after symptoms are detected,” Rockwood said. 

He added that even though those who leave isolation after five days are supposed to wear masks for an additional five days when in the presence of others, students do not have to wear masks while sleeping in their dorm rooms. 

With an increase in active cases across Indiana, including on Butler’s campus, some professors have opted to move classes online, for the safety of themselves and their families. 

Rockwood said there is no single metric driving the decision to stay in person versus going online. 

“It has been historically a combination of metrics where we’re looking at total number of cases on campus,” Rockwood said. “We’re looking at positivity rates, we’re looking at our isolation capacity on campus at Ross Hall, so all of those work together to inform decision making… we know we’re better in-person. We can’t eliminate risks, but we can try to layer mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.” 

Wagner has a strategic communication class that moved from in-person to online for the first two weeks of the semester. She said she really does not mind at all that her professor moved the class online.  

Sophomore art history major, Anisa Cobb, is enrolled in the same strategic communication class as Wagner. Cobb said she sometimes wishes all of her classes were online. 

“[The rising numbers are] a bit scary…” Cobb said. “I’m seeing different people in different classes. And some people aren’t as considerate with their masks still. Some people don’t wear it over their nose. Some people pull it down when they’re talking in class. So I am a little bit nervous.” 

Rockwood emphasized that it is impossible to predict the future and would envision a shut down or sending students home at this point highly unlikely, but Rockwood and the administration will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions from there. 

“I don’t want to raise any alarm bells,” Rockwood said. “We’re not close to [placing] that additional mitigation. We feel confident in where we are, the mitigation measures we have in place, to continue moving forward with our policies and plans and maintaining the in-person semester.” 

If students are symptomatic, Health Services is available to administer COVID-19 tests. Students need to report symptoms and positive results from non-university COVID-19 testing, by using the Health Reporting Form on the Health Services Portal

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