The Tippecanoe County health officer said Wednesday it may be too early to tell if the influx of students coming to campus and subsequent parties will lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.
Since classes began on Monday, Purdue students have taken part in multiple gatherings on and near campus, most notably at Circle Pines Cooperative where 36 students were suspended.
Those suspensions had been successfully appealed as of Wednesday, according to Exponent reporting.
“This virus spreads very easily in settings like that,” health officer Jeremy Adler said, “so that could very well be the case.”
Circle Pines confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, joining Delta Delta Delta sorority and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity as houses with confirmed cases.
Protect Purdue Health Center Chief Medical Officer Esteban Ramirez said several houses have recorded confirmed cases, but would not offer an exact number. Most cases have come from “one particular conjugate housing area,” he said.
Individuals within the houses are being quarantined, Ramirez confirmed.
Ramirez said Purdue has anywhere from 800 to 900 quarantine beds in total. While he did not give an exact number of people who are currently under quarantine, he said Purdue has “ample space” in its quarantine housing.
“We’re not using nearly a high capacity of bed space, thankfully,” Ramirez said.
As for students’ day-to-day activities, Ramirez emphasized the importance of following all parts of the Protect Purdue Pledge. That includes mask wearing, social distancing and quarantining students as soon as they test positive.
Ramirez also said approximately 60% of Purdue staff members are working from home. That, in conjunction with both online and hybrid classes, is designed to reduce risk of transmission between students and staff.
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, who is currently fighting a lawsuit over his citywide mask mandate, spoke of his confidence in Purdue students to take responsibility for themselves.
“For the most part, the students that are coming here understand the circumstances that we’re all living under,” Dennis said, “(and) they understand the appropriate way to behave.
“This isn’t a matter of doing keg stands; this is a matter of public safety.”
While Purdue is working to maintain and enforce the Protect Purdue Pledge among all students, Dennis said they can “only enforce what we’re aware of.” If Purdue authorities arrive at an event off campus, those students will most likely scatter into surrounding neighborhoods where they can create more havoc, Dennis said.
Mass gatherings are presently limited to 250 people, and local businesses are still under restrictions based on Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive order. Adler said he was unsure whether a spike in cases from Purdue students will lead to an increase in restrictions placed on businesses to offset the numbers.
“That depends on what direction our data goes,” Adler said. “And it’s really difficult to predict what impact that will have on our county as a whole.”
Ramirez said Purdue has been using a “proximity tracing system” to determine where infected students have spent time on campus, but did not offer further details as to how it works.
There were 131 new cases over the last seven days, adding up to 1,503 total cases in the county since reporting began in March. There are 543 active cases.