COVID on Campus
A PSU Health and Safety Inquiry

A view of the PSU campus including the clock tower.
A view of the PSU campus including the clock tower.

After a year and a half long closure, Portland State University reopened for students and faculty this Fall term, inviting students, faculty, and staff back to campus after a long and trying quarantine. Despite the collective sigh of relief from all of those who were finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, there’s also been a good deal of anxiety and warranted concern for overall campus health. Considering the poor state of response displayed by the nation this last year that has resulted in the deaths of 716,000 Americans, students are right to be concerned about their well being upon leaving the safety of their quarantine homes after all this time. Further, it seems that as we slowly return to in person activity there’s simultaneously been a divergence in general COVID related information.

So the question is, how are things going now? How concerned should we be about personal safety around campus?

In terms of state data, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently announced that Oregon’s total number of COVID-19 related deaths has reached over 4,000 since March of 2020. With massive spikes through August (reaching a peak of 2,600 cases a day), it appears that we may be continuing on the downward slope of recovery. However, COVID continues to disproportionately affect older individuals (and even more for those with preexisting conditions) and is respectively increasingly dangerous with older age and poorer health. We’re currently marked at high risk with an average of 1,343 tracked COVID cases per day.
In terms of vaccination rates and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78% of adults within the United States have received at least a single dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccination shots. That percentage drops to 65% when accounting for individuals below 18 years of age.

So despite the vaccine offering noticeably increased protection from contracting COVID, and even higher protection against COVID related hospitalization and death, we’re certainly not out of the woods.
Here at PSU, the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) located on campus has also been tracking COVID related data since March of 2020. According to this data, there have been a total of 103 COVID cases on PSU campus since March of 2020 with a trend of about a dozen per month for the last three months. While these numbers aren’t particularly devastating, a dozen confirmed cases a month also isn’t a low enough number that it can simply be waved off.

There’s also a consideration to be had about how SHAC has collected this data. Do most students who experience symptoms actually get tested? If they do, how many are going to SHAC rather than an outside resource? How many asymptotic students are on campus at any given time? That’s not to say that on campus health resource facilities aren’t doing a good enough job, but rather a consideration of other factors—factors that are harder to account for in basic data analysis.

It’s hard to say whether or not those numbers will increase or decrease as we continue commuting to and from campus, especially considering we’ve only just returned en masse. If there were a dozen cases back in August before most of us had even stepped foot on PSU property, there’s a logical argument to be had that numbers could be on the uptick in the next few months. Hopefully, with PSU’s mandatory vaccinations and masks for all students and faculty, smaller classroom sizes, and other preemptive health actions, we’ll continue to curb Oregon’s numbers and enjoy life back on campus.

Image by Alison White

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