The number of COVID-19 cases at the University of New Hampshire in Durham continues to climb at a high rate.
Between Feb. 8 and 14, there were 385 positive test results at UNH in Durham. That is a 1.77% positivity rate.
There were no cases detected at the Manchester campus or the law school in Concord within that time frame.
As of Monday morning at 8 a.m., 694 students were in quarantine and 415 were in isolation within the UNH system.
Weekly trend information provided by the school’s dashboard shows that the current spike in positive cases is, by far, the largest UNH has seen, leading some Durham residents to question whether a new, more aggressive, variant of COVID-19 is in the community.
Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said on Monday that officials there have not received any notification or indication there is a new variant of the COVID-19 virus in the community.
There were 383 current active COVID-19 cases in Durham reported by officials at NH Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.
Selig had another explanation for the spike.
“What we believe to be occurring is essentially COVID fatigue, where students at UNH are trying to get together, not in large groups of over 50, but in smaller groups,” Selig said. “There’s no indication we’re seeing the impact of one of the COVID-19 variants.”
Durham Police Chief Rene Kelley said on Monday that they had no reports of parties or gatherings off campus this past weekend. The prior weekend, there were a few smaller parties that were broken up. Only one had more than 10 to 12 people.
Kelley said there was about 30 people at that party.
To ensure the virus wasn’t being spread at local restaurants and bars, state liquor enforcement and Durham police checked on those establishments this past weekend. Kelley said all of them have plexiglass barriers up, require masks and demand groups stay six feet apart.
“We know for a fact that our off-campus establishments are following the requirements,” Kelley said.
Marian McCord, senior vice provost for research, economic engagement and outreach. She is co-chair of the UNH Testing and Tracing Committee, said during the State of the University last week that a new sequencer for COVID-19 genomes, which can detect variants, will be operational on or about Feb. 17.
UNH spokesperson Erika Mantz said on Monday that the testing methods they currently use at the lab are FDA approved and the same ones used by the NH Public Health Lab.
When UNH officials decided to switch to fully remote learning on Thursday, students’ access to each other was also restricted to help stop the spread of the virus.
Mantz said housing staff are monitoring access to on campus housing and college officials are working with landlords to help encourage students living off campus to adhere to public safety guidelines.
Off-campus students can no longer quarantine or isolate on campus.
“We continue to have both quarantine and isolation housing on campus. When numbers started to rise, we made the decision to limit its usage to students living in campus housing to ensure we did not run out of beds,” Mantz said.
Mantz said they will continue to share UNH’s positive cases daily on the college’s dashboard and all results will continue to be provided to NH DHHS.
The spring semester started at UNH on Feb. 1.