COVID-19 Update: Risk, Testing and Staying Safe
Dr. Emilio Carranco, Chief Medical Officer | September 14, 2021
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,
After completing the first three weeks of the semester, I want to update everyone on the COVID-19 situation and the challenges of the fall semester. The pandemic continues to cause understandable concerns within our university community, but it appears that COVID-19 case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations may be starting a slow downward trend. For more information about cases and positivity rates at Texas State, check the COVID-19 Dashboard on the Roadmap.
Case Investigation Challenges
While an increase in the number of positive cases was anticipated as students returned to our campuses for the fall semester, the number of reported COVID-19 cases was higher than expected. The university immediately began to develop additional processes for managing the situation including sending general notifications to professors and students when a positive case was reported in the class, prioritizing case investigations based on the highest risk for spread of infection and reviewing the number of cases in a class to identify situations that might need priority investigation. The Bobcat Trace team was expanded to 20 contact tracers with the addition of eight contact tracers and is now able to contact reported positive cases within 24 hours.
Preventing On-campus Transmission
Preventing the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses is a priority. The university has been assessing for possible signs of broad transmission occurring on our campuses. At this point, the university is not seeing evidence of broad COVID-19 transmission based on the following information:
- Contact tracers have not obtained information during case investigations to suggest linked clusters of cases, except for one athletics group where close contacts were quickly identified and quarantined.
- Reported case counts decreased from 559 cases in the first week of classes to 164 cases in the third week.
- The positivity rate for on-campus testing fell from 9% in the first week of classes to 3.5% in the third week.
- Residence hall cases have been reviewed and there is no evidence of transmission occurring beyond roommates.
- The positive case database was reviewed to determine if there was any class with an unusual number of positive cases relative to the size of the class—none was found.
Highest Risk for Exposure is Outside the Classroom
With high COVID-19 transmission levels still impacting the state of Texas, there is risk of exposure to COVID-19 throughout our communities. Exposures are still more likely to occur out in the community, within households, during gatherings of friends and family, or places like restaurants and bars. College campuses have generally had lower COVID-19 positivity rates than their surrounding communities—this has been consistently true at universities such as Texas A&M University, the University of Texas and Texas State University. College campuses have implemented a variety of mitigation measures that reduce the risk of infection and likely contribute to the lower positivity rates. No college campus is risk-free, but the greatest risk for infection occurs during activities outside the classroom. Every major COVID-19 surge in this country has been driven by social gathering during holidays or spring break.
Vaccinations and Face Masks Keep Us Safe
The most effective methods for reducing your risk on a college campus and preventing the spread of infection to family and friends are vaccination and the consistent use of face masks indoors and outdoors in crowded settings. Vaccinations are available at the Student Health Center Monday-Friday by calling for an appointment at 512-245-2161. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all available. Texas State is promoting vaccination through its Vaccine Recognition and Incentive Program.
New On-campus COVID-19 Testing Option
Texas State is expanding COVID-19 testing on its San Marcos Campus with the addition of a second testing site at the Student Recreation Center. MD Diagnostic Labs from San Antonio is providing COVID-19 PCR testing using an oral swab. No appointments for testing are necessary—simply walk-up at your convenience. Testing is available Monday-Friday from 9am – 4pm. Please bring your Texas State ID, driver’s license and health insurance card. MD Diagnostic Labs will bill your health insurance plan or the CARES Act for those without insurance.
It is estimated that 40% of those infected will have no symptoms and can spread infection to others without knowing it. It is important for persons, regardless of vaccination status, to test every two weeks or when sent a notice by the university’s proactive, random testing program. Testing after potential exposures in high-risk situations is important too, such as going to a bar or concert, traveling by airplane, bus, or train, or attending a crowded indoor social gathering. Persons who test positive for COVID-19 should report to Bobcat Trace as soon as possible and notify their professors and supervisors. The Delta variant can present with mild symptoms like a cold or allergy problem. So, don’t take chances—get tested.
Learning to Live with COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to be a challenge and it is not going away. It will circulate in our communities like the flu for several years to come. We have the tools available to keep us safe—vaccination, face masks, hand washing, enhanced classroom disinfection and optimized ventilation. The addition of contact tracers, enhancements to the Bobcat Trace reporting system and expansion of testing availability will improve the university’s ability to monitor for transmission on campuses and provide timely investigation and reporting. We will continue to watch the COVID-19 situation, reassess weekly and use targeted interventions to mitigate the impact on our campuses. If we don’t want COVID-19 to disrupt our lives and college experience, then we must commit to do the things that keep us safe. So, LETS MASK UP AND VACCINATE FOR TEXAS STATE AND THOSE WE CARE ABOUT!
Dr. Emilio Carranco
Chief Medical Officer
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs
Director, Student Health Center