By Stephen Neukam
Rider has continued to withhold key information about COVID-19 on its campus, cloaking the situation in uncertainty, at a time when universities around the country have seen major spikes in coronavirus cases wreak havoc on their students and communities.
After Rider reported a new student case on Tuesday — its 10th confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 since March, a top university official said she did not know whether the student, who lives off-campus, had been on campus, just one day after in-person classes started for the fall semester.
For the five Rider student and employee cases that have been confirmed since August, in each instance school officials reported the university does not know if any of the individuals had been on campus at all.
For two consecutive weeks, the university has refused to disclose how many tests, if any, it has administered, or the number of students in quarantine, crucial statistics in understanding the safety of its classrooms, residence halls and campus facilities.
Rider Student Body President and senior musical theater major Dylan Erdelyi said he wanted the university to be more forthcoming with its coronavirus statistics.
“The campus community deserves to know data such as the number of students tested, because the number of active cases is only meaningful in context,” said Erdelyi. “I have heard from several students that are pleased to see Rider’s case number so low, but skeptical as to if that is an accurate figure, since they are lacking the context of the data. I have seen several schools that are now publishing all coronavirus-related statistics in real-time on their website, including the number of students tested and cumulative cases vs. active cases; I would certainly like to see Rider move in that direction.”
Associate Vice President of University Market and Communications Kristine Brown declined to reveal how many students are currently quarantined on the Lawrenceville campus and how many students have been tested by the university’s Health Center. The only data the school has presented is the total number of confirmed cases connected to Rider since March.
In contrast, Princeton University, a nearby private institution of higher education, publicly reports total testing statistics for both students and employees, as well as quarantine data on its website. Monmouth University, another private institution in New Jersey, provides daily updates on the number of students in isolation and quarantine — both on and off-campus — on its digital “Covid-19 Campus Dashboard.” The College of New Jersey is reporting its information in a similar fashion.
However, Brown claimed that disclosing the number of students in quarantine would be “misleading” because of the various reasons for enforcing the policy. For example, a student could be quarantined for traveling home to a state that is on New Jersey’s travel advisory list.
“As you may know, there are many different reasons for which a student may be in quarantine, so therefore we are not going to report this number publicly so that is not misleading,” said Brown.
The lack of transparency presents building concern, as universities have been forced to shut down and abandon their fall plans due to climbing coronavirus cases and the difficulty that comes along with enforcing restrictions.