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A new report from the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin conservatively estimates that between 82 and 183 UT Austin students will arrive on campus with the disease during the first week of classes, which begin on Wednesday.
"Our analysis suggests that over one hundred UT students will likely be infected at the onset and that large gatherings will be risky," the authors write. "Contacts between residents and returning students may exacerbate risks, fuel transmission and deplete public health resources."
The research team, led by consortium director and professor of integrative biology Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, arrived at this estimate by assuming 22,000 students will return to campus—less than half of the total enrollment—and that 0.5% of them will be infected, based on the estimated prevalence of COVID-19 in the Austin metro and students' home counties in mid-August.
Once infected students are on campus, they pose a risk to others while attending in-person classes, organized activities and off-campus interactions, per the report.
For gatherings of 10 students, researchers estimate there is a 5% chance at least one student will arrive infected; for gatherings of 100 students, the probability increases to nearly 40%. In groups of 1,000 students, an estimated five students will arrive infected; in groups of 10,000, 50.
The report acknowledges efforts that the university has undertaken to mitigate the risk of outbreaks, including asking students to quarantine prior to engaging in campus activities and ramping up its testing capacity to include up to 5,000 asymptomatic individuals a week.
But in the last two weeks, colleges and universities across the country—including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame—have reopened with similar recommendations in place only to announce a shift to online instruction when outbreaks occurred.
In an email sent to the UT community on Thursday, Interim President Jay Hartzell said that the university is learning from these examples. "I believe our students and other community members can respond to these stories by behaving responsibly and protecting each other, enabling us to continue to have safe in-person experiences on campus this fall," he wrote.
Hundreds of members of the state employees union recently signed a petition calling on the UT System to cancel in-person classes, offer tuition cuts and provide hazard pay for essential workers.
UT students, employees and alumni also urged members of the UT Board of Regents to reconsider their opening plans during a virtual UT Board of Regents meeting on Thursday.
"I've already witnessed a number of my fellow students going out and about in large groups, no masks, getting ready to party it up," UT Austin sophomore Bennett Burke said. "The plans to simply trust that students will be responsible and follow all the guidelines—I don't think they're going to go very well."
In his email, which was sent after the meeting, Hartzell said the university will consider a number of metrics in deciding whether to move more classes online or close buildings on campus in the coming weeks.
In a match marred by injuries and key player absences, Austin FC lost 2-0 in Los Angeles for the second time on Saturday to West Division titan LA Galaxy.
Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver was tasked with the near-insurmountable task of holding back the LA Galaxy's Chicharito, who is now the league's top scorer this season, and he nearly succeeded.
The club saw its first major threat from the formidable Chicharito when a penalty was drawn on Jhohan Romana. In his usual game-saving fashion, Stuver leapt to the right to kept the scoreboard empty and block what many thought would be the league leader's first goal of the match.
With a Hector Jimenez injury midway through play, a Jon Gallagher absence due to injury and a man down as Captain Alex Ring sat the bench, however, the team was unable to get a win in their second trip to Los Angeles.
Austin FC was slated to play against the odds after Ring was benched due to a second yellow card last week. To cover the wound, the club put standout rookie Daniel Pereira in his stead and placed Danny Hoesen back at the crown of the lineup after fellow striker Gallagher stayed home.
Hector Jimenez got his first start with the club at right back in the stead of Nick Lima, but the run was short-lived. The 32-year-old suffered an injury after attempting to save the first LA Galaxy goal, but Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget still scored the match opener after popping a shot over Stuver to make the match 1-0.
Austin FC plateaued through much of the first half, and the forces of the universe were in the Galaxy's favor as they encroached on Austin's defense.
The club found new stamina, as they usually do, when a set of subs were brought in to up the club's tempo, and ten minutes of the match were entirely Kekuta Manneh's. Manneh, the club's only player with Austin ties, subbed in the 60th minute of play and immediately made an attempt on goal. The winger would make three more attempts, one of which just missed the top right corner of goal, before LA made its next advances on Austin's defense.
Head coach Josh Wolff said he hoped for a goal for Manneh, who doesn't often get to hit the pitch.
"His contributions were obvious, and I would have liked to see him get a goal there," Wolff said.
It looked like Austin might tie it up during the "Kekuta Era," but Chicharito played true to his stats. Stuver went head-to-head with Chicharrito once again and lost as he scored his seventh goal in five matches in the 77th minute of play.
⚽️ x 7️⃣@CH14_ scores his league-leading seventh of the season! #LAvATX pic.twitter.com/28zLnOmKWb
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 15, 2021
Matt Besler said he was up for a challenge as the club's central defender and he's unsurprised at Chicharito's success. Besler also said and he respects Chicharito on and off the pitch becuase of his openness about mental illness.
"I was looking forward to the challenge," Besler said. "His recognition of where the space is world class, and it's no surprise that he's scored goals everywhere that he's gone. I respect him as a player and I also respect him off the field."
Another attempt on goal was made by the Galaxy's Kevin Cabral, who sunk one in past Stuver just minutes later, but the goal was called offsides. Still, the match came to an anticlimactic end as Austin FC was unable to get one in goal and lost 2-0.
Besler, who has seen the ebbs and flows of his Sporting Kansas City, his club of 12 years, said that it takes patience to be a successful team. Still, he's impressed that Austin FC has made as much ground as they have in their expansion year.
"I understand that it's going to be a process, and we are in our fifth game of our existence, but the fact that we're at where we are at isa good sign," Besler said. "Towards the last third of the season, that's when hopefully we can peak and look a lot like our final product."
Austin FC will have a chance to snap their two-match losing streak as they head to Nashville SC for their sixth-straight road match at 8 p.m.on Sunday.
Nearly half of Travis County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, as of Friday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. And an even greater portion likely have immunity.
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott estimates that around 70% of local residents have some form of immunity to COVID-19, either because they have recovered from the disease or are vaccinated. This is approaching the threshold for herd immunity.
"We're starting to approach that 70% mark of combined disease and vaccination, so we may start to see some significant changes when it comes to disease trends," he told council members and county commissioners on Tuesday.
Escott arrived at this percentage by assuming that there is no overlap between those who have had COVID and those who have been vaccinated. "While there's certainly some overlap … there does not seem to be a lot of overlap between those two," he said.
Herd immunity occurs when enough people are immune to a disease that it is unlikely for someone who contracts the disease to spread it. With no one to infect, the disease dies out.
Public health experts have said herd immunity for COVID will require around 80% of the population to be immune based on its relative infectiousness.
Although natural immunity contributes to herd immunity and is partially responsible for the sharp downturn in the number of new COVID infections in recent months, vaccination is the gold standard among experts because of the increased security it offers.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the new CDC guidance as proof of vaccines' efficacy. "Since more people will not be wearing masks, it makes it even more important to get vaccinated," he said in a statement Friday.
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