Stark County was one of two highlighted by the governor during his weekly coronavirus update for having a positive test rate exceeding or nearing 10 percent. As of Thursday, Stark County has 257 active cases with an 18.44% increase being reported by the ND Department of Health.
With positive COVID-19 cases climbing on the Western Edge, health officials say that a move to Orange on the state's coronavirus alert system is on the horizon. Such a move would mandate that schools shut down in-class lectures and move to online only education.
Dickinson State said they are aware of the situation and are making every effort to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff, including the launch of a newly designed COVID-19 portal.
"Rather than having to have people go back through their messages, emails and stuff like that, we decided to create this dashboard," Marie Moe, vice president for Student Affairs and University Relations at DSU, said. "What we’ve done is we have asked our campus community members to report their cases. We have policies and procedures in place to make accommodations for people who need to be out either because they tested positive and they need to be in isolation or because they came into close contact and they need to quarantine."
Moe added, "When individuals report to us that they have to isolate because they have a positive test or because of close contact, we’re keeping track of that."
The campus finalized plans to create the portal in March when the campus was forced to shut down due to the pandemic. It was during that time that students, faculty and staff were being bombarded with emails and texts about the situation regarding COVID-19.
Going into the 2020-21 school year, the campus decided the portal would be the easiest way for everyone to be on the same page. Currently, DSU has 53 cases identified of which 11 are active and 42 have recovered.
"We felt that it was important to put all of this information into one place where it could be easily referenced," Moe said. "Kind of that 'just in time' information."
With the portal, the cases are able to be managed and it helps the campus manage the pandemic on a local level.
"The dashboard is a communication tool for campus, but internally we’re also looking at certain services to students," Moe said. "Services to faculty and staff, accommodations and adjustments that need to be made. So for our residential students it’s really where the majority of our focus has been when we talk about the daily checking because if a person is living in one of our residence halls and they need to isolate or they need to quarantine, then we have some needs that we need to be able to meet for them."
As numbers in Stark County continue to rise, Sherry Adams with the Southwestern District Health Unit said she fears the increase of numbers could bring Dickinson back to where we were in March, with businesses and schools being forced to shut down to prevent the spread.
"I fear we may still go Orange soon because we are still at a very high positivity rate. Unfortunately there is not a lot of buy-in to the fact that we went to yellow, and that’s really concerning," Adams said. "If we don’t take these precautions we will end up going Orange and things will shut down, not because they’ve been mandated but because people are getting sick... We know it’s out there, we know it’s affecting all ages and we know that people are getting sicker."
Moe mentioned adjustments have been made for students that begin to feel sick and have been unable to get tested.
"The new Hyflex model that we’ve put in allows for students to go to class in real time without having to be physically present so they’re not missing out on any instruction and I think giving those flexibilities allows for people to stay home while they get tested and to make those wise decisions," she said.
Currently, Dickinson State is not offering testing on campus, but have been in coordination with the Southwestern District Health Unit as part of the free weekly COVID-19 testing at the old Sanford Hospital.
"The Southwestern District Health Unit has been wonderful to work with in maintaining these testing opportunities and we encourage our students and our employees to go get and take advantage of those opportunities," Moe said. "I think we would love to eventually be able to be able to testing on campus and exploring those opportunities, currently we’re using our community resources."
For more information on the dashboard, go to https://www.dickinsonstate.edu/about/policies/covid/.