SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The University of Rhode Island is currently considering a campus-wide curfew to help curb the spread of new COVID-19 cases and prevent large student gatherings.
These discussions surround potentially dangerous student activities that largely go against social distancing guidelines. Earlier this week, television news outlets aired video footage taken sometime over the holiday weekend, showing a large, outdoor gathering.
Although the students were congregated outside, the size of the group featured in these clips appear to far exceed guidance from Gov. Gina Raimondo and Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott to limit social gatherings to 15 people or fewer.
Assistant Director of Communications Dave Lavallee said discussions of a possible campus curfew are ongoing, but no official decision has been reached.
For the time being, the university will continue its partnership with law enforcement as a deterrent. Additional patrols will be taking place in the area of the Roger William’s Housing Complex this upcoming weekend, where the video footage was shot.
“We’re continuing our additional patrols in that area, and what we find is they disperse,” Lavallee said, commenting that continued patrolling helps prevent students from gathering again. “We’re very, very serious about wanting these students to abide by the guidelines that we’re offering and the regulations put in place by the state.”
“We’re really serious, and that’s one of the reasons the curfew is being talked about,” he added. “I’ve said it over and over again, but we don’t want to be heavy handed. What we want is our students to take responsibility for themselves and for the health and safety of their community.”
Gatherings such as this put everyone at risk, according to Lavallee, but thankfully as of Monday, the on-campus positivity rate is roughly 0.7 percent.
“We’re not seeing any spread in the campus residence hall population and we’re not seeing it in the academic side of things either,” he said.
According to the most recent data available from the university’s health services dashboard, over the course of seven days, beginning Oct. 7, 7,920 tests have been administered, but only 121 new cases were identified. These figures equate to a testing positive rate of approximately 2 percent.
Beginning Oct. 4, the university mandated testing for all of its students, and as of this Thursday, roughly two-thirds have already participated. This testing revealed an alarming percentage of students in the Greek Life community testing positive for COVID-19, roughly 11.17 percent, prompting the university to impose a mandatory 14-day, shelter-in-place order for all Greek Life students – both on and off campus.
The shelter-in-place period began last week and will be lifted Oct. 24. Already, testing has shown that the percentage of students in Greek Life who are testing positive are on the decline, according to Lavallee. At the moment, roughly 8 percent are testing positive.
“That’s still not great, but we’re seeing the numbers going down,” he said.
“Some students in that community have expressed concern and disappointment with the shelter-in-place order, but I think the large majority of the Greek community is participating,” he added. “They want to get this right.”
Though the vast majority of students on campus are doing all the right things, according to Lavallee, discussions of a possible curfew, beginning at 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., will remain in play.
“We have issued very strong messages that students have to take responsibility for themselves and they have to be part of the community here,” Lavallee said. “We’ve told them over and over again, if you continue to violate and we can identify you, you will be referred to the student conduct process and you could be subject to suspension.”
The university is thankful to those who are following the rules and keeping their social circles small, and remains hopeful that the campus can remain open until Thanksgiving as planned.
In Narragansett, which plays host to the majority of off-campus student housing, roughly 7 percent of those tested are testing positive, according to data from the Rhode Island Department of Health. According to Lavallee, however, as of Monday afternoon, the percentage of all university students living off campus that are testing positive is about 2.56 percent.
“We think our off-campus groups are getting the message,” he said.
In South Kingstown, which hosts a much smaller percentage of off-campus student housing options, rates of community members testing positive are much lower. According to data from the Rhode Island Department of Health, South Kingstown continues to have a small percentage of community members testing positive for COVID-19, roughly 2 percent.
State-wide data from the past week is closely on par with this, hovering at about 1.6 percent. In recent weeks, trends from this data has revealed that younger Rhode Islanders are contracting the virus far more than any other age group, according to Raimondo.
More than two weeks ago, the governor warned that young adults, ages 19 to 24, clearly show that their social circles are too big and mask compliance is too low.
“It’s pretty crystal clear where we’re struggling, and what age group isn’t following the rules,” Raimondo said on Sept. 30 while pointing to a slide that clearly illustrated the concerning trend. “It’s notable, it’s obvious, it jumps off the page.”
“I’m asking you to do better,” she added. “You may be young and healthy, but you’re spreading this to people who aren’t young and healthy.”
Though there’s been some concern from neighboring communities where off-campus students live, work and patron, Lavallee said that “students, by and large, are doing the right thing.”
*This article appeared in The Narragansett Times on Oct. 16. For most up-to-date numbers, please visit URI's COVID-19 Health Tracker.