About 100 fewer UT community members test positive for COVID-19 during first two weeks of spring semester classes compared to fall 2020

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Photo Credit: Eunice Bao | Daily Texan Staff

Over 330 students, staff and faculty from the UT community tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the spring semester, according to UT’s COVID-19 dashboard

UT’s Proactive Community Testing positivity rate for students is at 2.85% as of Feb. 1, the highest it's been during a semester since Sept. 18, when the positivity rate was about 3%, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. So far, about 100 fewer members of the UT community have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of school this spring when compared to last fall. 

This semester, dorm residents were required to get a COVID-19 test within  four days of moving in. Jessica Klima, the new director of the Proactive Community Testing Program, said dorm residents made up about 22% of tests done from Jan. 11-29.

Art Markman, head of the academic working group for COVID-19 planning, said the positivity rate on campus is both worrisome and on par with what the University was expecting. 

“(The positivity rate is) higher than we had in the (beginning of) fall but reflecting the worst situation,” Markman said. “Obviously, that’s a cause for concern because the pandemic being worse than it was is a cause for concern.” 

Proactive Community Testing came close to reaching its limit of 5,000 weekly tests the first week of school with over 4,900 tests conducted — the most in one week since the University started testing — and over 4,300 the second week, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. 

“Doing 5,000 tests per week is not out of the norm for (Proactive Community Testing) during periods of peak usage, such as before holidays or after breaks,” Klima said in an email. 

Most undergraduate hybrid classes began in person Monday, and Markman said the University is in a good place for those classes to start. 

Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said the decision to delay the start of most hybrid classes in person was not based on infection rates but to allow students and staff to make a delayed transition back to campus. 

“We anticipate that this past semester’s effectiveness around planning, class modality, testing and campus guidance will continue to protect our campus community along with the increased availability of vaccines on campus and in Austin,” Harrison said in an email. 

UT remains at a Level 3 open status, which indicates campus, offices and residence halls are open, but a majority of classes will be conducted online. 

Markman said he does not foresee the level status going down unless more members of the UT community are vaccinated. He said the COVID-19 working group is monitoring the situation and beginning to think about how the fall 2021 semester will look with class registration opening in April. 

Markman said he hopes the vaccine will be more widely available so social distancing requirements can be reduced and more classes can be in person next fall. 

“The one thing we’ve learned during COVID is that no prediction ages well,” Markman said. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to vaccinate the University community by the fall semester, which would put us in a situation where we would be able to have more normal density of students in classrooms.”