As thousands of students return to Bowling Green — for the first time since March when coronavirus closed campus — county and university officials are making plans to test, trace and take action if there are mass gatherings.
At Thursday’s meeting, the Wood County Health Department Board heard about preparations to monitor and communicate about COVID-19.
Over 1,000 students have accepted a $1,500 credit to leave their residence hall contract, said Ben Batey, Bowling Green State University’s chief health officer and former Wood County health commissioner.
The university’s move to “de-densify” campus was announced last week. Batey said the goal is to have a single person in each residence hall room.
“We’re getting closer to hitting that goal,” he said. “That really drastically reduced numbers.”
The university has 6,100 beds available. Classes start Aug. 26.
Health board member Bob Midden asked where the students who are leaving the residence halls are going to live, and if there should be concern about crowding in apartments and in the city.
Batey said the university is working with landlords to monitor what’s happening off campus.
For example, there is a state order that bars stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.
“The fear was that would just drive students to house parties,” Batey said.
Everyone is being reminded that gatherings must be limited.
“If a party is going on and it’s to a point of concern, one of the big pushes is to get a message — no gatherings of greater than 10 people,” Batey said.
If a landlord or police have concerns, the students on the lease will be reported to BGSU through student affairs and face potential discipline on the code of conduct, he said.
“We recognize honestly the majority of students are outside of campus and in the community,” Batey said. “We want to make sure we’re navigating that appropriately.”
Midden asked about the level of cooperation for testing and tracing as students return.
“They’ve all been very cooperative. They seem to be on board with this,” Batey said.
Everyone is signing a commitment to participate in contact tracing, isolation and testing, he said.
Batey also said that Falcon Landing Apartments, 1515 E. Wooster St., will be used for isolation. There are 120 beds.
Midden also asked about more detailed reporting on statistics as BGSU and area schools open.
“So we know what the status of our county is, health wise,” Midden said.
Most students don’t have a Wood County address, so reporting is tricky, Batey said. If they get a lab test, the results go to their home address, which is usually out of the area.
Board member Dallas Ziegler asked about Wood County schools and how contact tracing and reporting would be done.
“Ben has talked to the schools already and that we are going to need their help,” said Amy Jones, director of health promotion and preparedness. “We’ll be working with them.”
In other business, board member Sonia Apple-Chamberlain said she was disappointed about action taken at a special meeting last month to request that the Wood County Fair be limited to a pull-in show.
The health board action came just hours after Gov. Mike DeWine on July 28 greatly reduced fair operations, canceling rides and grandstand entertainment due to coronavirus concerns.
“I think we handled that very inappropriately,” Apple-Chamberlain said.
She said the health board should have extended an invitation to a fair board member for discussion. The fair board had been told no action would be taken by the health board, Apple-Chamberlain said.
“If we’re going to take action, we need to have representation there,” she said. “They had worked hard all year to come up with a … plan for the fair.”
Board President Cathy Nelson said that things were moving fast and DeWine was leading the changes.
“I don’t think any disrespect was meant,” Nelson said.
Later in the meeting, Nelson said that she had attended a special fair board meeting on July 30 to answer any questions.
Nelson asked if the health department had received any complaints about the fair operations.
“We did get a few complaints,” Jones said.
But, she added, communication was good, with the fair board president asking the health department to reach out to them immediately if there were any issues.
Also at the meeting, Jones said that Wood County is averaging 15-18 coronavirus cases a day.
“We’re seeing a lot of family clusters and people who are having private gatherings,” she said.
Cases are being contacted within 24 hours, she said.
Jones added that they are in talks with Batey about getting BGSU involved in contact tracing.
“I think it’s going to get worse as we get into fall,” she said.
Batey said that the university has created 10 paid student employee positions. There are 60 interested and after the paid positions are filled, volunteers will be used.