Two weeks down: University COVID-19 update

The week of Aug. 31 began with Wilkes University having confirmed four students to be positive for COVID-19 and 18 students in quarantine. By the middle of the week, President Greg Cant had emailed the University community informing them that the number of students who had tested positive was seven.

As of Sept. 5, the number of positive cases is eight, and the number of students in quarantine is approximately 90. While the number has increased, the university sent out an additional email with important information regarding the designation of students who are quarantined versus those who are in isolation. 

“Quarantine keeps someone who was exposed to COVID-19 away from those who have not been exposed. Quarantine lasts for 14 days from the time of last exposure,” explained Diane O’Brien, director of health and wellness services at Wilkes, in the campus-wide email. 

“Isolation separates those infected with and testing positive for COVID-19 from people without COVID-19, even in their own home. Isolation separates people for the duration of infectiousness, which is two days before onset and at least 10 days after onset,” said O’Brien. “Isolation can end when symptoms are improving and after the absence of a fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.”

The reason for the large increase in quarantine numbers was that two pharmacy labs were possibly exposed to a student who tested positive for COVID-19. According to Provost Terese Wignot, those labs and the pharmacy department have moved online for the time being.

Every day, the university keeps students up to date with what is going on through the COVID-19 dashboard (, which is updated in the morning at 10 and in the evening at 6.

The information comes from various places, but the dashboard relies heavily on the Health and Wellness office.

Members of the Wilkes COVID Daily Response Team meet to discuss the information known to students on a daily basis.

Justin Kraynack, assistant vice president of operations and compliance and member of the Daily Response Team, explained the process of how students are tested.

“Generally, students are going to our health and wellness services and they are being evaluated there, and the tests are being taken at that point and monitored by Health and Wellness services,” said Kraynack. 

Kraynack also explained that students tested elsewhere have their information passed on from the Wilkes-Barre Health Department to the campus. The Wilkes-Barre Health Department also handles contract tracing, which starts with a positive case.

Once a student has been identified through contract tracing, Student Affairs will reach out to them.

“We give students an idea of a length of quarantine and answer any questions,” explained Mark Allen, dean of student affairs. “We then also assist if they are residential students in respect to meals and other needs.

“Out of the office of student affairs, we systematically contact all of the faculty of the affected students and indicate, but not being very specific, that the student will be out for a period of time. We direct the students to work with the faculty and engage with them so that there is no miscommunication in terms of the assignments that are necessary to keep up with their work.”

Whether students return home or stay in halls on campus is on a case-to-case basis. Students who quarantine are allowed to stay on campus when they have their own bathroom or those they share a living space with are also in quarantine.

Currently, there are 48 of the 50 beds available in residence halls for student quarantine. Shiowitz, Sterling, Ross and a small number of apartments on campus are all being used for quarantine.

Vice President Paul Adams addressed that the increase in cases within the pharmacy department highlights how the campus is going to approach COVID-19 for the remainder of the semester.

“We have come to the conclusion that our approach is going to be phased,” said Adams. “I think you wouldn’t find a situation where we would move directly from being face-to-face to sending everyone home. We would operate in a much more phased way and concentrate our attention where the issue is concentrated.” 

Adams continued, “I think as we did with the situation with the pharmacy school, you can see where we acted in one place where there was a concentrated issue. We would continue to do that, whether it is in a residence hall, a class, a lab, a team or whatever the situation was.”

As the pharmacy department was moved online, Wignot expressed that faculty have prepared for situations like this one.

“Our faculty did prepare all summer long for the eventuality for both short term, and we hope not, but longer term remote instruction. For the places we can, faculty are ready to transition to a remote environment for a week, a month or longer.”

As students become more aware of the number of students in quarantine, occurrences such as fire alarms can cause slight fear and panic. 

The Daily Response Team stressed that the safety of students in events like fire alarms and other potential hazards take priority over COVID-19, in that, students who are quarantined will be evacuated like any other for their own safety. 

This is possible because not only are environments like stairwells and hallways low risk compared to long face-to-face interactions, but also because, as Kraynack explained, the virus can be asymptomatic most of the time.

“This disease can be asymptomatic most of the time, so even the individuals that we have who are testing positive, which is a really low number right now, many of them aren’t ill at all, and maybe won’t have any symptoms at all.

“It is important to keep those who have tested positive and those who came in contact with them for a prolonged period of time away from other students,” said Kraynack.

Kraynack also explained that there are no students in campus apartments or halls who are in isolation, and there never would be.

“It is important to remember that because you are quarantined, you are not sick, and you do not have COVID-19. The idea is to separate from individuals in case you become symptomatic.”

Overall, the best thing students who are nervous can do is follow regular protocols like wearing masks and social distancing, especially during fire alarms.

Adams, as well as the rest of the Daily Response Team, expressed how grateful they are that students are cooperating with quarantine processes and working to keep each other safe. He also commended students, faculty and staff for following social distancing and mask wearing policies across campus. 

Cant closed his email to the campus regarding the virus with important reminders of health and safety procedures.

“We know this is concerning news,” said Cant. “Please understand that we have prepared for this very scenario and all the appropriate steps are underway. We continue to assess the situation in consultation with Wilkes-Barre Health Department.

“For everyone’s safety, we remind all members of our campus community to continue to wear your face covering at all times, wash or sanitize your hands frequently, maintain social distance from others and monitor your health and seek medical advice when needed. The health and safety of the campus community is our top priority.”

Any questions or concerns, should be expressed by emailing [email protected].