BREAKING: Ottawa County Public Health, GV, issues joint Staying in Place order, effective Sept. 17

Courtesy+%5C++Valerie+Wojciecchowski

Courtesy \ Valerie Wojciecchowski

Nick Moran, Olivia Fellows, and Kellen Voss

This story is still developing and will be updated as new information becomes available. 

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH), in coordination with Grand Valley State University, is enacting a “Staying in Place” order effective Sept. 17. The order will require GVSU students living and studying in Allendale Township to stay home through Oct. 1.

According to the order, students may leave their homes to attend in-person classes, utilize food services, shop for groceries or medicine, obtain medical care, attend worship and religious practices, intercollegiate medically supervised athletic practices, or travel to their place of employment. 

GVSU President Philomena Mantella said that the decision was a difficult one, but after monitoring case data and concurring with the University’s Virus Action Team, which on Wednesday increased the Alert Level from 2 to 3, the decision had to be made to curtail early virus spread on campus. 

“There has been a lot of collaboration and refining what really makes sense for us,” Mantella said. “We want to feel comfortable, and for them to feel comfortable with the extent that we can preserve our experience and the learning environment of our students.” 

According to the GVSU Data Dashboard, as of September 16, 2020, GVSU has 370 active COVID-19 cases, with 48 on-campus, 273 off-campus in Ottawa County, and the rest in Kent County or other. Currently, GVSU’s seven-day average of new cases is 38.7, down from the previous reports. 

“We are already seeing (a level of decline in COVID-19 cases) if you look at the (COVID-19 Data) Dashboard,” Mantella said. “If that line continues, we want to understand if this is due to our aggressive testing program we have.”

The collaboration between GVSU and OCDPH provides reach both on and off campus in terms of jurisdiction. Both organizations will be taking steps to continue to monitor and deter activity that may lead to further spread of the virus. 

“They (Ottawa County Health Department) have the authority to issue the order around public health for the county, whether they are off campus or on campus,” Mantella said. “We’ve been having conversations with them on a daily basis, but as we move into this phase we will do whatever it takes to keep our community safe.” 

On Oct. 1, Mantella said the University and OCDPH will review public health data in assessing whether or not to extend the order further. In that is continuing GVSU’s COVID-19 testing program, which she said has experienced an indication new case growth is slowing down, but will continue to stay vigilant. 

“We are among the most aggressive in testing programs at Grand Valley with [test numbers] that are near 7,000,” Mantella said. “I would say that we have the most aggressive testing on a percentage basis as we see more cumulative numbers.” 

In an email sent to GVSU’s campus community, Mantella said there would be further emphasis put on health requirements including making masks required outdoors, alongside distancing and contact tracing. She also noted her goal was to take a single step to cut down virus spread and reduce positive diagnoses to ensure the order is lifted Oct. 1

“This is a journey of a thousand steps,” the email read. “Walking together — but separately — will serve the common good. Please keep doing your part.”

This story will be updated with more information as it becomes readily available.

Update 1:39 p.m. In a press conference, University leadership including Mantella and Greg Sanial, Vice President for Finance and Administration and head of GVSU’s Virus Action Team, outlined further clarifications on enforcement, testing numbers and monitoring.

Mantella said that with 740 cumulative cases within the GVSU community (including 277 currently on the quarantine list), there will be increased messaging, student ambassadorship and Public Safety patrols on campus to reduce congregation and focus on containment. This order will work as another reminder to further curtail gathering and encourage safe behavior, she said.

For those disregarding the new regulations, students found in violation of the order will be spoken too, with possible action taken on multiple violations. Following GVSU’s Code of Conduct and public health requirements, discipline can range from probation to suspension to expulsion. Mantella made clear that the University’s goal is not to begin there, but to rather focus one education.

“(We will) first remind, then (move to) an action that can lead to repercussions if there is consistent violation of the public health requirement,” Mantella said.

Leadership also made clear that this order is specific in its application to Ottawa County, but does not affect students who live in Kent County, which includes GVSU’s Grand Rapids Campus. On the Allendale Campus, Sanial said facilities like the Mary Idema Pew Library and campus dining facilities will remain open, but include previously-made accommodations to encourage social distancing.

Addressing contact tracing, Mantella said there was more work to do. She said her goal was to make student contact tracing look closer to tracing from the average person, which is more robust. Through what the University does know, Sanial said the majority of cases are stemming from students meeting in smaller groups of four to six people, not large gathering, which students are already wary of. Mantella said the goal is to continue to keep dropping the number of new and active cases on campus, and the order serves as critical step toward driving health-conscious student behavior.

“We just need to keep reminding students that the stakes are high,” Mantella said. “We must keep protecting each other.”

Update 2:45 p.m. In an email from Interim Associate Director of Club Sports Mitch Eastlick, club sports has been suspended through Oct. 1, in accordance with the new order. Regardless of location on or off campus, there will be no in-person activities or practices for club sports, effective Thursday, Sept. 17. Eastlick noted the exception for intercollegiate varsity sports, but the exemption does not cover club sports activities.