64 students test positive for coronavirus at UO ahead of fall term

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Sept. 26, 2020 9:08 p.m. Updated: Sept. 26, 2020 11:40 p.m.

Students worry those staying off campus are harder for the university to trace.

Alice Fischer and about 10 of her friends were among the 64 University of Oregon students to test positive for COVID-19 this past week.

The 21-year-old went to a birthday party in Eugene a few weeks ago; the party took place inside due to wildfire smoke that hung in the air. She only learned she had been exposed to COVID-19 after someone at the gathering got a phone call a day later informing them that a close friend had tested positive.


“All of us pretty much are asymptomatic ... which makes me think that there are probably so many asymptomatic cases, people who don’t know that they’re spreading it,” Fischer said Saturday. “I would not have known if I hadn’t gotten the call that someone I know had tested positive.”

Fischer said she has been quarantining off-campus with her roommate, who was also exposed at the same gathering.

She said she’s been contacted by Lane County contact tracers, but she has not heard anything from the university, where classes begin Tuesday.

“It seems like they should call me,” Fischer said. “I’m a student with COVID.”

UO said its Corona Corps Care Team was established earlier this year to support students and employees who test positive for COVID-19 or have had contact with someone who has tested positive. The team works to educate UO community members about resources available to them, including housing, food and health services and academic accommodations.

The team engages directly with students who are identified through tests given to those moving in on campus and those tested through campus health services.

Under this system, Lane County Public Health is supposed to refer campus community members not tested through the university to the campus care team.


Fischer, who was tested at an off-campus urgent care, said she was not referred to the campus care team. She said her contact tracer indicated that the university would be reaching out to her.

Fischer also said one of her fears is that the university may have an under-reported number of students with the virus.

Lane County Public Health said it addresses whether people are affiliated with area colleges or universities in its contact tracing interviews — asking whether, for example, someone is a student or where they work. Health officials then give that information to the university if someone affiliated has tested positive.

The UO also operates the Corona Corps monitoring team, a branch within its care team, consisting of students who work as contact tracers to support county efforts.

In efforts to identify the virus in its on-campus community, the university does its own coronavirus testing for students moving into residence halls. Though, the majority of students who have tested positive for the virus, like Fischer, live off-campus, according to the university.

All of Fischer’s classes are remote for the fall term, but she said she still needs to contact her professors ahead of classes to let them know about her diagnosis.

“It’s just so weird because I’m pretty asymptomatic,” Fischer said. “I don’t feel like I really need a lot of special treatment.”

She said mainly she just feels like she has a head cold — she’s experiencing what she described as brain fog, a low-grade fever and some stuffiness. She doesn’t have a cough, one of the most common coronavirus symptoms.

Fischer said many students she knows were initially not very worried about the virus, due to the low number of cases in Lane County.

“I’m just not sure how this is going to go with a bunch of socially-starved 18 to 21-year-olds. I just don’t see a way to manage it,” she said. “I just think people aren’t going to be getting tested regularly enough, there are going to be a ton of asymptomatic cases and people who have it now thinking they’re immune. We don’t really know if that’s true.”

The number of new COVID cases and hospitalizations dropped this summer, but new diagnoses have picked back up recently. Oregon reported its highest daily number of new cases, 456, on Friday. On Saturday, state health officials reported 277 additional cases.


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