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Ohio State President: University Preparing For Possibility Of Closing Campus Again

Ohio State student Connor Brown, right, and family move into the campus dorms in August.
Darrin McDonald
Ohio State student Connor Brown, right, and family move into the campus dorms in August.

It’s a busy first week on the job for new Ohio State University president Kristina Johnson, who came into office as the school deals with an ongoing pandemic and the budget issues that's created.

Almost 900 students have tested positive for COVID-19 after just a week of in-person classes resuming. When Ohio State announced it would maintain a safety dashboard with the latest COVID-19 case numbers, the school planned to update the info daily. But Johnson said they ran into a snafu when collecting data.

“We don’t have the latest data because we didn’t do testing Friday, Saturday, Sunday at scale, so we don’t have those numbers yet,” Johnson said in an interview with WOSU's All Sides With Ann Fisher on Wednesday. “We looked at Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for our testing. So we had all the on-campus students, any voluntary, and of course anybody who was symptomatic or thinks they’ve been exposed, absolutely we are testing all of those.”

Johnson said those numbers will be updated more frequently, and that the dashboard will include results for off-campus testing.

“We’ve also started testing students that are off-campus, in particular focusing on high-density congregate housing as well with students that will come onto campus for their instruction,” Johnson said.

The 24-hour positivity rate, which is the rate for students who test positive for COVID-19 in the last day, was originally 1.1% as students moved back to campus. Last Thursday, it stood at 3.1%, but by last weekend it had increased again to nearly 6%. Johnson said she expects the infection rate to hover around that latest figure. 

“We had a little bit of delay in getting back some of the tests from last week, and we started in at-scale on Monday,” Johnson said. “We’re adjust the tests now, so we will be updating the dashboard today, and it’s an issue. The rate is going to continue to be in that 5-7% depending on whether you’re on campus or off campus.”

The school continues to work on a plan in case administrators decide to close campus again, something that Johnson warned would happen if the positivity rate remained high.

“We are working on that right now on what the planning would be," Johnson says. "I think we feel pretty good about the number of classes that are already either remote or hybrid. One of the other things we did when I came in was, we looked at models from Georgia Tech website that would say, ‘What’s the probability in a group of size x?’”

After viewing those models, Ohio State administrators decided to halve class sizes, going from a cap of 100 students to a cap of 50. Testing at the school has increased as well.

“Some of the things we did is we increased the number of tracers by order and magnitude. We went through comprehensive testing,” Johnson said. “So now all the roughly 11,500 students that are on-campus in residential housing are tested every week.”

Meanwhile, college students continue to host parties on- and near-campus. Johnson said 223 students were given interim suspensions because of partying, but the number of actual suspensions went down after some investigations into student conduct.

“Interim means the students still need to be verified," Johnson says. "Were they at the particular party? Since then, we’ve been able to take 100 off of that list. So we’re looking at a good 120 students.”

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.