UTEP Continues to Suppress Spread of COVID-19 on Campus, But Continued Vigilance Needed
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
The number of COVID-19 cases in El Paso County has risen significantly over the past two weeks to the highest levels since the pandemic began. It is more important than ever that we each take responsibility for keeping ourselves and others safe by following best health practices: wash your hands with soap regularly for at least 20 seconds, wear a face covering, stay at least six feet away from others outside your household, and stay home if you are sick.
If you plan to be on campus, take advantage of UTEP’s free coronavirus testing program. If you are not on campus or if you have symptoms of disease, you can get tested at one of the community testing sites listed here.
While the number of local COVID-19 cases is rising, UTEP is continuing its mission to teach and conduct research in a safe campus environment, and we are evaluating additional measures that will help the region to suppress the disease.
We are teaching and working by distance when possible, following best health practices on campus, and identifying asymptomatic individuals carrying the virus early who may not otherwise know they are sick so that they can stay home and get better.
Although we saw an increase in positive coronavirus cases among students and employees in the last week, the positivity rate is significantly lower than in the community around us.
We are working with faculty this week to obtain additional information about in-person and hybrid classes to determine whether adjustments can be made to further decrease density on campus by moving courses to larger classrooms or even outdoors.
In addition, because last week’s on-campus drive-through testing was so successful, we are looking into additional options for drive-through testing on campus and will continue to model using best health practices all the time, including participation in proactive community testing.
As the El Paso region sees record numbers of positive COVID-19 cases, more UTEP students, faculty and staff are taking advantage of the University’s free Coronavirus Proactive Testing Program. For the week of 5-11 October, 2,691 students, faculty and staff — a record high number — were tested through the University’s program and a total of 72 were positive cases. This represents a positivity rate of 2.7% for the week, compared to 11.1% in the larger El Paso community.
Fifty-three percent of those who tested positive through our program last week are taking all online classes or working remotely. Supporting them as they stay home and continue to learn helps the community.
The increase in UTEP cases was not unexpected given the substantial increase in positive cases reported by the City of El Paso in recent weeks. When we identify a positive individual who has been on campus, the Environmental Health and Safety staff immediately notifies anyone who may have been in contact with that person on campus and encourages them to be tested, and the workspace or classroom is thoroughly cleaned.
Our dispersed approach to working, teaching and research, when possible, and proactive testing program to find asymptomatic carriers of the disease, coupled with a culture of using best health practices such as social distancing, wearing face masks and washing hands, seems to have been effective at maintaining safety while we continue our mission.