The reopening of the University of Texas at Austin could amplify community transmission of COVID-19 in the Austin area, according to a new report published by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
"The projections suggest that transmission among UT students could spill over into the Austin community, leading to increasing numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations," the researchers wrote.
The consortium, which is based at UT Austin and led by Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, projected transmission rates for the period between Aug. 26, when the fall semester began, and Dec. 20.
Under the mildest scenario, which assumes that transmission rates among UT students and Austin residents are lower than current estimates, the researchers estimate that 638 students will be infected and approximately 527 individuals will be hospitalized with COVID in the Austin area during the four-month period.
The university has already exceeded these projections, according to its public dashboard. Since Aug. 26, 743 students have tested positive for the disease. A spokesperson said the university does not share hospitalization data.
The University of Texas at Austin has fallen short of its stated goal of testing 5,000 asymptomatic community members each week. (UT Austin COVID-19 Dashboard)
In this scenario, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 157.
For context, there are currently 84 people hospitalized with COVID in the five-county Austin metro. The peak number of hospitalizations occurred in mid-July, during the surge, when 492 people in the metro were hospitalized due to the disease.
Nearly 500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Austin metro in mid-July, during the surge. (Rational Anarchy/Reddit)
Under a more severe scenario, which assumes a higher transmission rate among students and a moderate transmission rate community-wide, the researchers expect 19,675 students to be infected and approximately 8,188 individuals will be hospitalized over the same period.
In this case, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 942, or nearly double the number seen at the peak of the surge.
"Austin has an estimated COVID-19 hospital capacity of 1,500 beds, not accounting for potentially reduced capacity during influenza season," according to the report. "[S]tudent-to-student transmission can amplify the strain on Austin healthcare systems and increase the risk that COVID-19 cases will exceed local resources."
UT Austin can slow the spread of the virus among students—"and minimize spillover into the surrounding community"—by prohibiting large gatherings and providing rapid testing and contact tracing resources, the researchers wrote.
While the university has said it will test 5,000 asymptomatic community members a week, it has fallen short of this goal. Since classes began in late August, it has tested an average of 1,758 a week.
In an update provided on Monday, the university said it has not been able to meet this threshold because of federal and state health information laws that prevent it from mandating testing.
Why doesn't @UTAustin make testing mandatory? Why isn't UT performing the advertised >5,000 tests per week? A UT F… https://t.co/u2ovklHfS3— Andrew Zhang (@Andrew Zhang)1601308593.0
"The answer, in part, is that we have fewer than 5,000 people a week who have been willing to take the tests," according to the university's faculty council.
While UT has prohibited parties on and off campus, it has not prohibited large gatherings. Earlier this month, more than 15,000 people attended the Texas Longhorns' first home game of the season. The university required student attendees to be tested prior to admission into the stadium; of the 1,198 students who were tested, nearly 8%—or 95—received positive results.
The next home game is on Oct. 3, when the Longhorns will face off against Texas Christian University. The 100,000-person Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be limited at 25% capacity, although local health officials have repeatedly cautioned against attendance even with the capacity limits.
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Cold weather is finally hitting Austin, which means it's time to enjoy staying at home and bundling up with some cozy meals.
If you haven't become the cook of your dreams since the pandemic hit, now is the perfect time to try out these recipes which will surely warm your belly.