While the UT community accounts for about 25% of COVID-19 cases in Travis County since Aug. 26, the first day of classes, Dell Medical School experts said there seems to be little transmission between UT students and other Austin residents.
The UT COVID-19 Dashboard shows 2,579 cases in Travis County and 656 UT cases since Aug. 26, including 92 new positive cases since the start of last week.
Darlene Bhavnani, epidemiologist at Dell Medical School, said only 1% of all case-contact relationships were between a COVID-19 positive student and someone from outside of the college age range.
“There doesn’t seem to be transmission between these college-aged individuals that are mixing together … and other community members,” Bhavnani said. “I'm really optimistic about this being contained and containable … as long as we can encourage our student body to get tested and participate in the tracing process.”
Bhavnani said infections among the UT student population tend to be mild or asymptomatic, which she had also observed among the Cabo San Lucas cluster in March.
“Given the low hospitalization rates, they don't seem to be burdening our health care systems,” Bhavnani said. “Given the capacity and isolation facilities the city of Austin provides, there's still quite a lot of capacity.”
Kelsia Adil, finance and international relations and global studies sophomore, is an Austin local living in West Campus. She said she’s hesitant about visiting her family in Austin because of COVID-19.
“(Some college students) think that, ‘Oh, yeah, nothing's gonna happen to me, even if I get sick, I'm gonna be asymptomatic,’” Adil said. “That is even more concerning to have that mindset because you didn't even know you're spreading it to people who are more likely to have life-threatening situations because of COVID-19.”
Bhavnani said individuals who are considering going home should quarantine, take precautions beforehand, physically distance as much as possible and wear masks. She said they can participate in proactive community testing, and students should consider if any family members are immunocompromised or otherwise at risk.
Bhavnani said experts are expecting a second peak in the coming months. She said if COVID-19 rates rise, that could mean more risk for individuals considering coming home.
“If rates were to peak and change, I think the team would be ready with contingency plans for any students living on campus,” Bhavnani said. “The expectation is that if there were a large outbreak among students, we could contain it, and we could make sure our student population is not drawing resources from the community at the time.”
Naveen Rajan, computer science and Russian, East European and Eurasian studies junior, said he stayed at home in Austin and did not return to the campus area because he believed living in West Campus would not be safe.
“I was just seeing crowds of people walking together without masks,” Rajan said. “That didn't seem like a safe environment to be living in … I'm privileged enough to have a home in Austin that I can attend classes from, so I thought that would be the better option in terms of public health and safety.