Novel Coronavirus

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to reflect that OSU uses PCR testing during student intake. 

Oklahoma State University is reporting 23 positive cases of COVID-19 among an OSU sorority.

According to the university, officials learned Friday night of the cases at the Pi Beta Phi sorority house.

"Last night OSU officials learned of 23 positive COVID cases in an off-campus sorority house. The rapid antigen testing was performed at an off-campus health care facility. Due to the nature of this situation, the entire chapter house is in isolation or quarantine and will be prohibited from leaving the facility," a university press release reads. "One member of the sorority who lives elsewhere is among those who tested positive and will also remain in isolation. All involved are currently being monitored by OSU and Payne County Health Department and contact tracing is being conducted to further protect the campus community. The services of a third-party contractor have been enlisted to disinfect the facility and will do so again after the two-week isolation and quarantine period.

The 23 new cases are unrelated to the 22 positive cases among the 3,049 test results from the on-campus intake reported Friday. OSU Vice President of Student Affairs Doug Hallenbeck told the News Press that all the Greek houses also had testing procedures during move-in, though the 23 new sorority cases came after the initial testing.

“All the women that were going to be part of recruitment were tested prior, this was additional, unrelated to that,” he said. “They were all tested within seven days of moving in … They were in, somebody wasn’t feeling good, got tested and then everyone else got tested.”

He said it will be important to remind the Greek houses to abide by their pandemic protocols.

“Every house already has a plan in place. Protocols in place,” he said. “What this will do, is make sure we continue to emphasize the importance of being vigilant and continuing to work their plans and their protocols in place. Not sure what happened in this one, but it gives us that opportunity to say, you know, ‘wear your masks, social distance.’ In this case, I believe somebody got sick, went and got tested, so they did exactly what we wanted them to do. We were able to identify people that were positive and isolate them.”

More test results could emerge in the coming days. Hallenback said as of Friday, 4,100 people had checked in to live on-campus and more are expected. They have around 5,100 total contracts for people to move in.

It is also unclear which totals will be reflected in the case reports from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Oklahoma State uses PCR testing during student intake, while the sorority used rapid antigen testing. It has been reported by several outlets that the state does not include rapid antigen tests in its confirmed cases report unless that patient has also had a PCR test to confirm, which takes several days longer to get results. According to OSU Communications Director Monica Roberts, for on-campus move in OSU used the PCR test and processes them through the OSU Diagnostic Lab on campus. Results are then submitted to OSDH through the state public health reporting system PHIDDO and are accounted for in state and local statistics. This will also be the process for the remainder of the semester.

For now, the university is still planning on going about the business of beginning school next week, which can also include those sorority members who have tested positive, because they have an online option. To his knowledge the entire house is in quarantine.

“We designed it so every class should have an online option for students,” he said. “In this case, those that are either sick or have been exposed and the Payne County Health Department says they need to quarantine, they’ll be able to start classes just like everybody else as long as they’re well enough. Right now, I don’t have reports that any of them are sick other than being positive, other than the one that wasn’t feeling well. They’ll still be able to go to class log in, and start the semester like everybody else.”

Hallenback said the university expected to have students test positive, even groups of students.

“We anticipated that we were going to have cases when folks come back. We anticipated that we would have groupings in some points, by the nature of the way students interact, really the way all of us interact, but we were prepared for it,” he said. "We had a plan in place, we’ve been working on it for five months and now it’s just working the plan. On the positive side, people were identified, now they’re being isolated so they can get well, get negative and resume.

“All the actions that were taken were doing our best to protect our community and also to protect the Stillwater community.”

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