UT sets daily positive COVID-19 case records in January

Leila Saidane, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Jan. 18, 2022 flipbook.

As students and staff return to campus after break, the University is reporting its highest daily rates of positive COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The University recorded 230 positive COVID-19 cases among students and faculty Jan. 5, and 159 student and faculty cases Jan. 10, the highest numbers since September 2020, when the University reported 116 cases on one day. As of Jan. 15, the University’s COVID-19 dashboard reports an estimated 1,169 active cases. Dr. Terrance Hines, University Health Services’ chief medical officer and executive director, said the culprit is the highly transmissible omicron variant, accounting for 95% to 98% of active cases.

Nearing the end of January 2021, the 7-day moving average for student and faculty cases was around 27. In mid-January in 2022, the 7-day moving average was 117.5. 

“These are percentages that you really had not seen this high in a very long time, if at all,” Hines said. “It’s reflective of Austin, of the state, of the country. Fortunately, the severity of omicron doesn’t seem to be as bad. The challenge that we have is because the numbers are so high … that’s out of a larger pool of people who are infected right now.”

Hines said Travis County’s community current transmission number predicts 1,350 active cases per 100,000 people. Hines said unvaccinated and unboosted individuals are more likely to contract the omicron variant. On Jan. 6, the city of Austin returned to Stage 5, the highest stage of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines. 

The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, published Jan. 6, predicted two possible surges based on state action and the transmissibility of the omicron variant. After the consortium ran updated projections on future cases, they predicted either an extreme peak of positive cases Jan. 9 in a pessimistic scenario, or a mild surge peaking Jan. 13 in an optimistic projection. 

In response to the recent surge in cases, President Jay Hartzell asked that professors move all classes online until Jan. 31 and requested that students present a negative COVID-19 result upon returning to campus. 

Some campus buildings have reduced hours and updated protocols in response to the high number of cases. University dining halls have closed their seating areas and are only serving meals in single use to-go containers. 

“As of right now, we’ve made this consistent change until January 30,” said Josue Rodriguez, assistant director of marketing and communications for University Housing and Dining. “But we’re still going to follow the University and adjust our dining services accordingly, depending on the guidelines from the University.”

RecSports facilities such as Gregory Gym and Caven-Clark Field will remain open with reduced hours, while Bellmont Hall, the Recreational Sports Center and Wright-Whitaker Sports Complex are closed until Jan. 30. 

“We really focused on what facilities we could have open and ready for students to recreate,” said Randall Ford, director of communications and development at RecSports.

Hines said the University will continue to give the same advice they have since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago.

“Wear a good quality mask if you have to be out, limit your social interactions, wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick,” Hines said. “But I think the biggest, most important thing is (to) be vaccinated and boosted.”