UT-Austin model projects between 82 to 183 students will arrive on-campus infected with COVID-19

Amanda Figueroa-Nieves

Between 82 and 183 UT students may arrive infected with COVID-19 during the first week of classes, according to a report published Friday by a group of University researchers. 

The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium projected for gatherings of 10 students, there is a 4.9% chance that at least one student will arrive infected. This probability increases to 39.4% for a gathering of 100 students, according to the report. 

The researchers in the consortium, which creates projections of COVID-19 death rates in all U.S. states and most major metropolitan areas, did not account for the possibility that contact between students before the first class day could increase prevalence of the virus among students, according to the report. 

The report also states 156 to 341 students would test positive for COVID-19 if all students returning to campus were tested in the first week of classes. This estimate includes people who are no longer infectious but would continue to test positive. 

UT does not plan to test every student returning to campus, but instead will test up to 5,000 people every week in the Proactive Community Testing program, according to the Aug. 4 message by University President Jay Hartzell.

The model assumed 12,000 students are already in Austin and 10,000 additional students will be returning to Austin by Wednesday. The researchers noted the model also assumes more than half of students enrolled at UT will not return to Austin for the fall semester, according to the report. 

The introduction risks of spreading COVID-19 may be lower if students quarantine and self-isolate, and UT performs extensive and rapid testing, according to the report. 

Lauren Ancel Meyers, head of the consortium, said voluntary precautions students should take include vigilantly wearing face masks, limiting the number of people they come in contact with and isolating themselves if they or anyone in their household has even mild COVID-19 symptoms. 

“When you do get together with other people, keep the group small, insist that everyone wears a face mask, keep a good physical distance from others… and try to meet outdoors rather than indoors when feasible,” Meyers said.

University spokesperson J.B. Bird said the University’s academic planning group for the fall semester requested this analysis to help plan for the limited return of students to campus and Austin. Bird said the University has used modeling to shape their fall semester approach.

Terrance Hines, chief medical officer and executive director of University Health Services, said the University has received three rapid-testing machines, and UHS plans to use them around the beginning of September. The machines will allow for approximately 100 COVID-19 tests per day, according to the Aug. 4 message. 

Hines said this will aid UHS’s existing capacity of hundreds of nasal swab tests daily, barring test kit supply issues.

COVID-19 cases among returning UT students would also pose a resource challenge, according to the report. If 15,000 students return to Austin, the researchers predicted UT would need to test up to 2,750 contacts of positive cases in the first week, solely from imported cases, according to the report. This requirement would decrease if fewer students return, fewer students are tested and students have fewer traceable contacts, according to the report. 

“We urge members of our community, especially returning students, to take note of the study’s findings, rigorously follow public health guidelines and university rules, stay home and contact a doctor if sick, and be mindful of the welfare of our community,” Bird said.