UT-Austin leads universities with most COVID-19 cases, New York Times survey finds

Hannah Williford

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the University’s response to the Times’ survey on Twitter.

The University of Texas at Austin topped a list of hundreds of universities nationwide for having the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases, according to a survey published Wednesday by The New York Times.

Since March 1, 287 students and 169 staff and faculty members have tested positive for the virus, according to the COVID-19 dashboard published by the University. Positive cases for UT peaked on June 21, with a total of 24 positive tests in a day.

The Times, which tallied 449 cases for UT, reached out to public and private universities across the United States, but noted there is no standardized method for reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths. While some colleges, including UT, have online data, the Times said some schools’ information was acquired only by inquiry, and some schools refused the request. 

University spokesperson J.B. Bird told the Austin American-Statesman that the Times’ survey leaves out important data.

“Some of the omissions are egregious,” Bird told the Statesman. “The Times for example says they documented 14 deaths from COVID-19 across all U.S. universities, despite the fact that easily accessible reports document 38 deaths in the Times’ own backyard at schools in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. The Times however cites no numbers for any deaths or even cases at CUNY universities.”

Later Wednesday, the University publicly responded to the survey on Twitter, saying the article “shows how well different universities track & report cases but is not an accurate comparison of universities because it's missing so much data.”

The University said its data includes off-campus cases, which other schools may or may not be tracking. 

“UT Austin diligently tracks & transparently reports COVID-19 cases on a public dashboard,” the University said in a tweet. “Regardless of how other universities approach the numbers, we will continue to do what's best for public health, tracking & sharing comprehensive information.”

The City of Austin has also had a high number of cases, with 232 new cases reported on Tuesday in Travis County and 370 cases in the Austin metropolitan area.

UT has reported one COVID-19-related death. In early July, University officials announced a custodial staff member died from complications related to the virus. 

The University plans to continue classes in the fall with some courses fully online, some in person and some in a hybrid model. Students will also be allowed to live on campus in double-occupancy rooms, although there will be restrictions on guests. Earlier this month, Texas Athletics said Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be opening with 50% capacity.

In a planning update released Wednesday, the University said Kevin Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, has asked the university to look at reducing crowds to 25% capacity, down from the 50% originally planned. Officials said a final decision will be made in the coming weeks.