Three Athens State University employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the university president said Wednesday.

“We are extremely grateful that only a few cases have been identified,” Philip Way said in a statement on the school’s website. He said the development isn’t unexpected “given the increase in cases in Alabama.”

Both the state and Limestone County had their highest number of new cases reported Thursday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. A total of 318 Limestone County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 24 reported Thursday. Almost half of Limestone's case — 148 — have been reported in the last 14 days. 

Morgan County has had 859 cases, including 41 reported Thursday. Lawrence County has had 84 residents test positive, including three reported Thursday.

Athens State spokesman Chris Latham said the three employees who tested positive were non-faculty staff members, and they were all exposed off campus.

“When (the employees) learned they were exposed, they were tested and self-quarantined,” Latham said.

Latham said about 10% of the faculty has returned to campus. Faculty come to the campus only to teach classes that are difficult to transition to online, while others are teleworking and holding virtual office hours. All non-faculty staff personnel have returned to the campus, he said.

“In each case where an employee has tested positive, our human resources office has coordinated the response with both the person testing positive as well as those with whom they may have had contact,” according to Way.

Calhoun Community College has received no reports of COVID-19 among its students or employees, said Wes Torain, acting director of public relations.

Way said that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, an individual who has had contact with someone who tests positive for a minimum of 15 minutes at a distance of less than 6 feet is deemed to have been exposed, so the people who met this criterion at Athens State have been advised to be tested and self-quarantine.

If a test is negative, an employee will return to work, Way said, but if the test is positive, an employee must remain off campus for 14 days from the date of the initial test.

Among the procedures in place at Athens State: There are only two entrances to the campus, at Beaty and Hobbs streets, with individuals screened at those entrances with a thermal thermometer and asked a series of questions, such as if they have symptoms related to COVID-19.

Once cleared, individuals receive a wristband that must be worn at all times while on campus. Once inside the buildings, individuals are expected to follow hygiene, sanitation and social distancing protocols, and face coverings are encouraged, but not required, Latham said. Employees typically wear face coverings while in common areas, he said.

If employees leave the campus for lunch or for other reasons, “they have to have their temperature checked again,” Latham said.

Way said the work areas impacted have been closed for deep cleaning by the university’s third-party cleaning service.

“We will continue to monitor events as they transpire and take all necessary actions to ensure a safe work environment,” he said.

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