North Texas Daily

Staff optimistic as COVID-19 surge declines on campus, across state

Staff optimistic as COVID-19 surge declines on campus, across state

Staff optimistic as COVID-19 surge declines on campus, across state
February 10
13:20 2022

Although COVID-19 cases spiked statewide as schools reopened for the spring semester, some university staff believe low positivity rates on campus represent the end of the omicron surge.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout Texas have been slowly dropping, according to the Texas Tribune. Data from the Texas Department of Health shows the most recent wave of hospitalizations beginning to flatten out after its spike, according to Texas Public Radio.

However, Denton County reached its highest reported active cases in January and has experienced 777 deaths due to the virus as of Feb. 8, even as campus cases have declined. The university COVID-19 dashboard has recorded all positive cases on campus since August 2021 and lists the overall positivity rate at 9.09 percent.

“The week ending January 7, we had just under 400 cases on campus,” said Kerry Stanhope, assistant director of the Meadows Center for Health Resources. “And then the week ending [February] 4, we had 167 cases on campus. That’s a really good decline.”

Of the 167 positive cases on campus, 94 are currently active as of Feb. 8.

Reports of “stealth omicron” have also been appearing across the world and in North Texas, but have not been reported on campus yet.

“To my knowledge, I don’t know of any stealth cases that we’ve had in this area,” Stanhope said. “But it’s not impossible.”

The symptoms of the new omicron variant are identical to its parent strain, meaning individuals who contract it will likely not lose their sense of taste or smell and be less likely to be hospitalized if they are vaccinated.

“This is a changing environment, what we knew in March of 2020 is very different than what we know right now in March of 2022,” Stanhope said.

In December 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its quarantine policy from a 10-day isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19 to five days.

University policy also changed to mirror the CDC’s recommendation, as well as choosing to offer fewer virtual class options, which led to backlash from some students worried about staying healthy on campus.

For students like integrative studies senior Maha Karim, the decision to offer fewer online options seemed unsafe.

“In most of my classes I struggled to social distance because they’re packed to the brim and all of us need to be there because we all need to graduate,” Karim said. “We’ve already paid our fees. It’s a really frustrating situation.”

Student Affairs Director of Communications Amy Armstrong believes the university deciding to be in-person was the best choice while still offering some remote options on a case-by-case basis.

“With masks and vaccinations strongly encouraged and the response to both that we have seen from the UNT community, we feel that remaining in person is the best way we can serve our students,” Armstrong said.

Stanhope stated the university’s choice to return in person not only helps the mental health of students but also university faculty and staff.

“What the university is looking at right now is how do we try and reduce the spread of COVID as much as we can and try and protect people from it, while also keeping the mental health of our students and our employees in mind as well,” Stanhope said.

The number of individuals accessing mental health resources on campus spiked during times when the university was fully remote as people struggled to adjust, Stanhope said.

“It was across the university, from students as well as our faculty and staff who were used to having that in-person connection and things,” Stanhope said. “[Staff] suffered as well because they were going through some of those same things as our students were.”

Stanhope said the spike in cases early this semester followed predictions based on the previous spring semester’s various outbreaks.

“As we went into the actual main part of the semester, we saw [cases] really decline as more people were staying on campus and returning back to their routines,” Stanhope said. “We’re hopeful that we’re going to have a continuation of that decline and see similar trends to what we did last spring.”

Stanhope said a contributing factor to lower cases in 2021 could have been due to the university canceling its spring break. As of Feb. 8, the university has a spring break planned. Stanhope said increased vaccination rates could also prevent future spikes.

The SHWC has been consistently booked with vaccination and booster shot appointments, Stanhope said. He encourages any students looking to get vaccinated to go to the SHWC website for more information.

This story has been updated on Feb. 11 to reflect that university staff, not faculty, were interviewed.

Featured Image: Signs leading to the COVID-19 testing room in Union 381 on Feb. 7, 2022. Photo by  Sonia Huerta

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Alex Reece

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