As Frostburg State University resumes in-person teaching, concerns over safety mount

Frostburg State University resumed in-person classes Thursday, about a week after a spate of coronavirus cases forced the campus online and as questions mount over the school’s handling of the virus.


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The number of cases has fluctuated in recent weeks — from 28 between Oct. 4 and 17 to 60 during the two-week period that ended on Halloween, according to the school’s coronavirus dashboard.

Twenty-six students were in isolation this week, school officials said Wednesday.

Fewer than 1,150 students are residing on campus this semester, along with 400 students who are living in a public-private apartment complex on the grounds. The school’s most recent screening data indicates 640 students and employees were tested on or off campus between Oct. 18 and Oct. 31.

As the situation becomes more unpredictable, some students are leaving the campus in northwest Maryland, retreating to their homes throughout the region, where they suspect they will be safer.

Alexis Hager, a 19-year-old sophomore and resident assistant, said she has seen students wheel suitcases out of residence halls this week. She would leave herself, but her job is keeping her on campus, she said.

“As I’ve been going to the [cafeteria] and stuff to get food or going to the mail room, I’ve been seeing more and more people,” Hager said. “I’m sure everybody has thought about [leaving] at least once.”

Coronavirus caseloads have risen across the Washington region in recent weeks.

Frostburg State suspended in-person classes Oct. 29 after the school’s health center recorded 12 positive cases in a single day, pushing the number of active cases to 32, said Liz Medcalf, a school spokeswoman. In Allegany County, where the campus is located, about a quarter of 300 cases logged during the month of October were tied to the university, said Brenda Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department.

The cluster of cases that forced classes online “were spread within a common social circle,” the university said in a statement. “Had we seen significant spread outside of these social circles, or what is called ‘community spread,’ we would have taken stronger actions.”

But some students think the school’s decision to restart in-person classes and reopen recreation facilities is premature, particularly as students continue to contract the virus.

Jasmine Bonomolo, 20, a psychology major, said she reported flu-like symptoms to the campus health center on Oct. 26 and was told to get tested at an off-campus urgent-care facility, she said.

Bonomolo would spend most of the week in her dorm room, trying her best to avoid other students. After she received her positive test result Oct. 29, she said she informed the heath center and reported a new symptom: chest pains.

Frostburg State officials said students who report severe symptoms are referred to an urgent-care center or to the emergency room, even for a coronavirus test. The campus health center also is not equipped to deal with severe complications, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, Medcalf said.

Bonomolo said she was released from the emergency room and prescribed ibuprofen to manage the pain. On Oct. 30 — nearly 24 hours after receiving her positive result — the 20-year-old said university health center staff instructed her to go to a nearby Quality Inn hotel, the school’s designated isolation space.

“It’s a little upsetting just because I feel as though that it could have been handled better because of the fact that I was in the dorm, around people. I had no choice but to go to the bathroom that other people use and it feels a little upsetting,” Bonomolo said. “I was put in a position that put [other students] in harm’s way.”

The university said it followed protocol and, in a statement first published in the student-run newspaper the Bottom Line, said that “any student that has been triaged at Brady [Health Center] and needed to be isolated or quarantined has been properly addressed and placed in proper situation for their care.”

The uptick in cases is also inflaming tensions between the university and the union that represents housekeepers, bus drivers and other employees. The union said members will rally on Friday and demand the university negotiate new safety standards.

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a person standing in front of a store: Jasmine Bonomolo, a junior at Frostburg State University, said that when she reported flu-like symptoms to the school's health center, staff told her to get tested for the coronavirus off campus.

© Cassie Conklin
Jasmine Bonomolo, a junior at Frostburg State University, said that when she reported flu-like symptoms to the school’s health center, staff told her to get tested for the coronavirus off campus.

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