The university’s COVID-19 cases have more than doubled since the start of the semester, with the Student Health and Wellness center reporting 41 active cases as of Sept. 8, which has left some students concerned.
Despite the rise in cases after the first week of school, the total is relatively low compared to other universities in the area like Southern Methodist University, which has 215 active cases as of Sept. 8.
The number of active cases is updated every Friday at 12 p.m. However, the Health Alerts website specifies that students and staff who have “met CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] criteria for symptom-based recovery,” will be removed from the total number of infected persons.
Communication design sophomore Jolie Mullings, who is immunocompromised, said she felt the university’s case reporting is not transparent enough.
“There is not any real follow up and it doesn’t benefit [the university],” Mullings said. “They’re still putting themselves in danger actively… It would benefit [them] to make students feel safer.”
Other universities have taken different approaches to case information. Texas Woman’s University shares a Google Doc with students that includes information such as when each infected person was last on campus, how many people were exposed to the infected person, where the person was on campus in the days leading up to their positive test, and what steps were taken to disinfect the area to stop further spread.
A university media representative told the North Texas Daily the close-contacts of the infected person are contacted individually by the university in order to maintain patient privacy.
“In contact tracing, tracers work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious,” the representative said. ”For the purposes of UNT-sponsored contact tracing, this would be limited to other members of the UNT community. Contact tracing staff would then notify these exposed individuals of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible… They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.”
Art history freshman Andi Bernabe said he thinks the university’s case reporting still has room for improvement.
“I would definitely incorporate a lot of the aspects that these other universities are doing,” Bernabe said. “I especially like the description of the students and employees that have gotten COVID. That particular type of information would be very helpful.”
The representative said while there are reports over the last several months of potentially large percentages of people being asymptomatic carriers of the virus, the SHWC has not seen this to be the case.
“For the last several weeks, we have been conducting random testing for students across campus,” the representative said. “To date, all of the cases where an asymptomatic person tested positive during the random testing have been false positives. This leads me to believe that at the present time we do not have an issue with a large portion of asymptomatic students on campus. The random sampling will continue throughout the semester to monitor this trend and look for any changes.”
Still, Mullings said she is not willing to take any risks with the possibility of asymptomatic cases on campus.
“It was just so unrealistic for me to be on campus, especially with the presence of people who seem completely normal and don’t even realize they’re a carrier until someone around them gets infected,” Mullings said. “I think that’s something the campus is also neglecting.”
According to @untoutreach on Instagram, the university is offering free COVID-19 testing on Fridays at Discovery Park from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Throughout the semester, some students will be chosen for a Random Testing Program, in which they will receive a COVID test for free.
Students who are symptomatic must schedule an appointment with the Health and Wellness center before getting tested. A test for symptomatic students costs $50.
“Students who are experiencing symptoms can make an appointment at the Student Health and Wellness Center for a rapid response test,” the representative said. “Students who are symptomatic and cannot afford the test should still schedule an appointment and the SHWC will work with the student on payment arrangements.”
Still, there is not a clear answer as to what steps the university will take if COVID-19 cases continue to rise on campus.
“University officials have no way of knowing what the future holds,” the representative said. “But we are doing everything possible to remind students, faculty and staff about the importance of continuing to follow safety guidelines… [We] are closely monitoring the ever-evolving situation and regularly consulting with our Chief Medical Officer, as well as local and state health officials, and the administration will not hesitate to make quick adjustments as required.”
Featured Image: UNT officials implement safety procedures for students and faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image by Quincy Palmer