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Texas State University

COVID-19 Update: Challenges and the University Response

Dr. Emilio Carranco, Chief Medical Officer | September 10, 2021


Dear Faculty and Staff,

As we approach the end of the third week of classes, I want to update faculty and staff on the COVID-19 situation and the challenges of the fall semester.  There have been understandable concerns voiced by faculty members about how the recent COVID-19 surge is impacting our campuses.

Early Surge of Cases

Given the COVID-19 surge at the start of the fall semester, we anticipated that Texas State would see an increase in the number of positive cases being reported as students returned to our campuses.  While we prepared for this scenario, the positive case counts reported the first two weeks were larger than expected and our contact tracing team was not able to investigate every reported case in a timely fashion.

Actions Taken

At the end of the first week of classes, the university determined that other processes were needed to provide more timely notifications.  During the second week of classes, the following new processes were implemented:  

  • When a positive case was reported to Bobcat Trace, the system pulled the student’s class schedule and sent notifications to the professor and all students in the class notifying them that a positive case had been reported in their class and instructing them to monitor for symptoms, wear a face mask for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms developed.  
  • The contact tracing process was modified to prioritize case investigations based on risk.  Students living in residence halls, athletes, and those reporting as unvaccinated and unmasked were prioritized based on the potential for spread of infection in those situations.   
  • A class report was developed to allow the contact tracing supervisor to look at the number of positive cases reported in each class during the previous 7 days to identify situations that might need priority investigation.

Additional Enhancements 

While the new notification and contact tracing processes helped to address the early issues with reported COVID-19 cases, additional measures are planned to improve the university’s response:

  • The Bobcat Trace reporting system will be enhanced to provide professors with the name of the positive case as soon as a report is submitted and an opportunity for faculty to identify close contacts in the class (those sitting within 6 feet of the positive case) for immediate notification via an automated process.  
  • Contact tracers’ investigation database will be expanded to include information on the number of positive cases in each class.
  • Eight additional contact tracers will be added by the end of this week to bring the total number of Texas State contact tracers to 20.  With case counts and positivity rates starting to decline on our campuses and the addition of several contact tracers, it is expected that case investigations will be completed in a timely fashion. 
  • Free COVID-19 testing will be expanded with the addition of a second testing site at the Student Recreation Center on our San Marcos Campus next week.  Testing will be provided on a walk-up basis.  COVID-19 testing is now available at the Student Health Center on the Round Rock Campus for diagnostic evaluations.  The Curative kiosk on the San Marcos Campus has also expanded its testing hours to 8am-7pm, Monday-Friday.    Despite having to close the kiosk for one day last week due to a supply chain issue, Curative performed 2,936 tests during the first week of classes and 1,831 tests during the second week—both significantly higher than previous testing levels. These larger data sets continue to provide helpful information about positivity rates and the incidence of COVID-19 in our campus community.
  • Free COVID-19 testing continues to be available at multiple sites near both campuses.  Persons testing positive at one of those sites should report to Bobcat Trace to receive a Bobcat Trace isolation e-mail, initiate contact tracing, and have the case added to the COVID-19 Dashboard.

COVID-19 Dashboard

A COVID-19 Dashboard was added to the Roadmap last year to provide the university community with information on positive cases and positivity and vaccination rates.  The Dashboard has been updated with new case counts this week that had not been added due to delayed reporting from Bobcat Trace.  

On-campus Transmission

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses is a priority.  The university has been assessing for possible signs of broad transmission occurring on our campuses.  At this point, the university is not seeing evidence of broad COVID-19 transmission based on the following information:  

  • Contact tracers have not obtained information during case investigations to suggest linked clusters of cases.
  • Reported case counts decreased from 559 cases in the first week to 279 cases in the second week.
  • The positivity rate for on-campus testing fell from 9.0% in the first week of classes to 4.8% in the second week. 
  • Residence hall cases have been reviewed and there is no evidence of transmission occurring beyond roommates.  
  • The positive case database was reviewed to determine if there was any class with an unusual number of positive cases relative to the size of the class—none was found.  

One athletics group did have a cluster of positive cases, but close contacts were identified and quarantined quickly.  

Risk of Exposure

With the COVID-19 surge still impacting the state of Texas, there is risk of exposure to COVID-19 throughout our communities.  Exposures are still more likely to occur out in the community and within households and gatherings of friends and family.  Studies in K-12 have shown that transmission from student to teacher is rare.  Positivity rates on our campus have consistently been lower than county or state positivity rates.  Vaccination and the consistent use of face masks indoors and outdoors in crowded settings will reduce your risk of infection significantly.

Looking Ahead

COVID-19 continues to be a challenge and it is not going away.  We have the tools available to keep us safe—vaccination, face masks, hand washing, enhanced classroom disinfection and optimized ventilation.  The addition of contact tracers, enhancements to the Bobcat Trace reporting system and expansion of testing availability will improve the university’s ability to monitor for transmission on campus and provide timely investigation and reporting.  We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation, reassess weekly and adjust our actions and operations as needed. Thank you for your commitment to supporting the academic success of our students during these difficult times.

Sincerely,

Dr. Emilio Carranco
Chief Medical Officer
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs
Director, Student Health Center