Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Covid responses at Duke and UIUC

According to the Duke University dashboard, they had 349 positive cases among students last week. Duke has about 15000 students (about 2/3 are grad students) and a 98% vaccination rate. You might recall from last year that Duke implemented a robust testing process last year and had far fewer cases than the University of Illinois did. They appear to have continued their approach from last year of testing all of their students. Although their dashboard doesn't break down cases based on vaccination status, most of these positive cases are likely to be breakthrough cases. In other words, they are testing everyone so that they will have some idea of how bad things are on campus. That has led them to implement mitigation (according to Washington Post article): Indoor and outdoor masking, allowing faculty to shift to virtual teaching for two weeks, suspending indoor dining, limits on student activities. 

Duke has a higher vaccination rate than the University of Illinois, and when they tested everyone last week, they found 349 positive cases. When the University of Illinois tested primarily the unvaccinated students, we found 165 cases. Yet, unlike Duke, we don't know how many people are actually infected because we're testing only a small subset of our campus population.

Duke is doing surveillance testing to monitoring the covid situation on its campus and they're taking steps to detect cases among the entire campus population and to stop spread. The University of Illinois is not, even though we could be. We have made no effort to detect cases among the vast majority of students who are vaccinated even though breakthrough cases can spread Covid. And, if we don't know when someone is infected, we can't isolate them to break the chain of transmission. If I had to guess based on our vaccination rate and positive tests among the unvaccinated students, I'd estimate that we have 500+ cases on campus right now and that we've detected only about a third of them. And, those cases we haven't detected will be spreading Covid rapidly.

The University of Illinois has regularly touted our "success" last year in preventing community spread (although the data on that are debatable), so they recognize how important that is. Yet, they went ahead and encouraged a full-capacity crowd at a football game with no meaningful mitigations in place. Many people who attend football games come from the surrounding communities that have low vaccination rates and high levels of spread. If preventing community outbreaks is important to the university, maybe that wasn't such a good idea...

Yesterday, Awais Vaid of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (who has worked closely with the university SHIELD team) told the News-Gazette that we'll know in a week whether having 41,000 fans at the game will result in more Covid cases for Champaign County, and he encouraged fans who attended to consider getting tested. Perhaps the possibility that the game would be a super spreader event is something that the university should have raised and addressed before the game. Instead, the university offered free tickets to faculty and staff in order to fill seats (thanks for the invite, but I noped as far away from that one as possible). 

Unlike Duke, the University of Illinois appears to have adopted a "let's wait and see what happens" strategy, while simultaneously blinding ourselves so that we can't see clearly. We have the capability to test everyone, but the university has chosen not to. Hoping everything will go well isn't a strategy—Covid doesn't care what we hope will happen.