Student COVID-19 cases climb despite social distancing, mask guidelines

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Photo Credit: Jamie Hwang | Daily Texan Staff

As coronavirus case numbers in Texas reach an all-time high, cases are also on the rise among many college students in Austin.

University Health Services has seen a surge in cases among students due to increased testing and many students moving back into the Austin area, said Dr. Terrance Hines, executive director and chief medical officer of UHS. Hines said that increase mirrors the recent spikes in the city and across the state.

“We definitely want to encourage folks to see this as a marathon and not a sprint,” Hines said. “This is going to be with us in our reality for a long time, but the more diligent we are in following the recommendations and doing the preventative steps, the sooner, hopefully, that we can move out of this pandemic.”

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there have been over 5,000 cases reported in Travis County as of Sunday, and cases have set records three days in a row. In a TV appearance last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said these cases are rising among 20-somethings and scolded them for not following social distancing and mask guidelines.

Political communications senior Derek Foshee said he’s still heard a considerable amount of loud parties going on in West Campus, which he said started the first day Texas opened.

“It just seems like summer,” Foshee said. “It doesn’t really seem like anything’s going on right now. It’s really odd.”

As of June 23, 123 students have reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to University Health Services. On June 18, Texas Athletics said 13 football players tested positive for the virus

Foshee, who is part of the Student Government COVID-19 committee, said the city also has coronavirus guidelines posted at businesses around West Campus, but students are not listening to them.

“Without the people, Austin would be a really good example of what the city should be doing,” Foshee said. “I’m just blown away by the amount of people that have to be told to put on masks.”

Milia Daher, a human dimensions of organizations senior, said she has seen people posting about large gatherings and walking around West Campus in large groups.

“People seem to think that because some restrictions have loosened up in the past weeks regarding the stay at home orders that it’s now okay to post about large social gatherings,” Daher said. “I’ve heard parties going on (in my building) almost every night.”

Hines said UHS will have testing available in the fall for all symptomatic people or people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and they are working determining how much testing will be available for well individuals.

Hines said each individual preventative measure, such as wearing masks and staying home when feeling sick, is not 100% effective, but following all of those guidelines together will increase protection.

“It’s important that we think about things in terms of the greater UT community and how we all have an impact on the health and safety of not only ourselves, but those who are around us,” Hines said.

Ariana Arredondo contributed to this report.