21% of students, staff tested at FSU last week were positive for COVID-19

Spike comes after social media posts showing off-campus parties

Before stepping foot in a classroom, Florida State University students living on campus have to take their first exam of the semester: a COVID-19 test. (Capitol News Service)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State University reported a spike in coronavirus cases last week in the wake of social media posts that showed off-campus student parties with no social distancing and few, if any, masks.

FSU reported that in the seven-day period ending Sept. 4, 3,429 tests were performed at a local civic center and 724 individuals tested positive -- for a positivity rate of 21.1%.

Overall, 902 students and 16 employees have tested positive since Aug. 2. FSU President John Thrasher said eight out of 10 of the students who have tested positive live off campus.

Bethany Bartelli is one of those students. She said she’s happy with the university’s pandemic response, noting she was infected during a game night with a small group of friends.

“It was not great,” said Bartelli. “There’s no right option. There’s only a best option, and it feels like this is it.”

After the social media posts showing photos and videos of the parties, the university emailed a statement saying that the “administrators are disappointed to see the public health guidance provided on multiple occasions has been disregarded by many.”

The statement continued: “FSU is again requesting local establishments and apartment complexes step in with appropriate restrictions where off-campus students are congregating.”

The university, which has almost 44,000 enrolled students, responded to the increase by prohibiting tailgating at Saturday’s football game, telling fraternities and sororities they can’t have non-member guests and reducing the size and number of student events. Florida State plans to begin random coronavirus testing next week.

By comparison, the University of Florida in Gainesville, which had more than 56,500 students enrolled last year, has been reporting test results since May 6. As of Tuesday, 338 students and 28 employees have tested positive. But of the 1,253 students tested at the campus health center, 272 tested positive for a positivity rate of 21.7%

Thrasher said in-person learning will continue at FSU, despite the increase in cases, pointing to some silver linings in the case data.

“We’ve not had any faculty member we know that’s gotten the disease from any student who has attended a face to face class. As I said earlier, no faculty member, no student has been hospitalized,” said Thrasher. “Now we hope to lower the numbers, no doubt about it, but we meet every day just about with somebody from the Surgeon General’s Office, somebody from the SUS, our own medical advisory committee is involved. So I’m going to look at all of that kind of information before I would actually take that next step.”

And while students we’ve spoken with feel the university is doing a good job keeping them safe, their larger concern is for staff and the outlying community.

Bartelli said the Saturday home football game, expected to draw 19,000 students and fans, raises some concerns.

“Revenue that that brings in is important not just for the university, but the community. So is the larger well-being of public health,” said Bartelli.

Thrasher said the game will go on, and he’s hopeful it will be a success.

“A lot of people have been looking forward to something that at least comes back to some normalcy, but we’re going to do it in a safe way,” said Thrasher.

And Thrasher said despite recent cases, he believes students are beginning to understand the seriousness of the virus.

Thrasher noted the university is taking steps to discipline students who behave recklessly amid the pandemic but said the university’s primary strategy is education over punishment.

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