University of Texas reports record-high COVID-19 case count amid omicron surge

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The University of Texas reported a record number of COVID-19 cases among students, staff and faculty on Monday, as testing resumed after the holidays.

UT reported 108 positive COVID-19 student cases and 25 faculty and staff cases on Monday, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. All the tests were administered Monday.

It’s the second-highest number of cases ever reported in one day among UT students and the highest number ever reported among its faculty and staff.

The data provide the first glimpse of how COVID-19 is impacting the university since UT paused the reporting of COVID-19 tests during a break for the holidays. The record case count comes as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread in Texas and the U.S. and threatens regular operations for universities across the nation.

More: UT will no longer comply with federal COVID vaccine mandate after judge halts order

UT reported the first three cases of the omicron variant in Austin among members of the campus community last month, and COVID-19 cases among the UT community have increased significantly since then. Darlene Bhavnani, a UT epidemiologist, previously told the American-Statesman that the increase in cases is likely due to the omicron variant.

On Monday, the university reported a 9.95% positivity rate among students, staff and faculty who participated in proactive community testing, including 74 students and 23 faculty and staff members. UT conducts proactive community testing for asymptomatic UT community members with no known exposure to COVID-19 with rapid antigen nasal swabs or PCR saliva tests, according to its website.

The remaining 34 students and two faculty and staff tested positive on Monday through clinical testing, which is done for UT students, faculty and staff who are symptomatic or are asymptomatic close contacts identified through contact tracing.

The previous daily record for total COVID-19 cases among students, staff and faculty was set on Sept. 11, 2020, when UT reported 109 student cases and seven cases among faculty and staff. Many of the reported test results included positive cases among student football season ticket holders, who were required to get tested before the home football game against UT-El Paso.

More: Austin and Travis County data at Stage 5 levels. What does that mean for the new year?

Last week, Austin Public Health shifted to Stage 4 of its five-stage, risk-based guidelines, which indicate the threat level for community spread of the coronavirus. The change was made in response to a spike in the community transmission rate, test positivity rate and the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions driven by the omicron variant.

Under Stage 4, everyone should wear masks during all activities, and partially vaccinated and unvaccinated people should avoid gatherings with people outside of their household and only travel and shop if essential, according to Austin Public Health.

Austin is rapidly approaching Stage 5. Austin Public Health and its community partners also reported 30% of last week's tests were positive for COVID-19, according to a news release.

“The omicron variant continues to spread at an alarming rate in our community. It poses a significant risk to our most vulnerable populations,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in the release. “As schools and businesses reopen after winter break, infections are going to spike to unprecedented levels. We must act accordingly — wear well-fitting masks anytime you leave your home, get vaccinated and boosted.”

UT classes are to resume Jan. 18 after its dorms reopen on Jan. 14. Students in residence halls will be required to get tested for COVID-19 before the semester begins, and the university is encouraging all other students to get tested within 72 hours before their return to Austin or classes.

UT is asking students to limit contact with people outside their household before they return to Austin or classes and to isolate themselves if they test positive. University officials also are recommending that students get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster as soon as possible if they have not done so already, according to a message sent to students last month.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: University of Texas reports record total COVID-19 case count

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