Baylor keeps positivity rate low while cases surge throughout U.S.

Graphic by Chase (Junyan) Li | Photographer & Videographer

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

As cases surge around the nation, Baylor has been keeping down the COVID-19 positivity rate on campus. As of Nov. 1, the seven-day average in the United States was 82,829 new cases.

At Baylor, there is a 1.3% positivity rate compared to McLennan County’s 6% positivity rate and Texas’s 10.7% positivity rate. How is Baylor keeping the numbers low in the midst of the latest spike?

Dr. Michael Muehlenbein, professor and chair of the department of anthropology, said in a LTVN interview the key to Baylor staying open and keeping the positivity rate low is testing.

“What we need to do is identify cases, we need to isolate them as quickly as possible, we need to contact trace and then quarantine those contacts as quickly as possible,” Muehlenbein said. “That’s the only way in the absence of a universally wide, effective vaccine that we’re going to make progress in eliminating this virus any time soon. It’s important that you are doing this to protect yourself because you are susceptible, but you’re also protecting everybody around you. To do so requires a combination of social distancing, universal usage of face masks and intensive bio-testing.”

Choosing students, contractors, faculty and staff to be randomly tested gives a more accurate positivity rate on campus. It also allows Baylor to identify asymptomatic cases, which accounts for least 40% of transmission cases, Muehlenbein said.

Associate Vice President of Business Services and Chief Procurement Officer Peter Granick said in an LTVN interview students following the protocols and getting randomly tested when asked is why Baylor has remained open and the positivity rate does not mirror what is happening in the rest of the country.

“We feel we can identify where there are trends or clusters developing, so we can get in front of it and do the contact tracing and identify ahead of time those that may turn symptomatic or turn positive and ask them to quarantine,” Granick said. “That allows us to keep the spread way below and our positivity rates way below what’s happening in the county around us.”

Assistant Vice President of Media and Public Relations Lori Fogleman said a strong marketing campaign is another method that has been used to encourage everyone on campus to continue to follow the protocols.

“Our team has been provided extensive signage across campus that’s highly visible and conveys important information about the prevention and healthy habits in a fun, playful way by using our mascots Bruiser and Marigold,” Fogleman said. “We also have an extensive communication and social media plan that includes regular updates from President Livingstone and other members of the health management team.”

Even though so far Baylor has remained open, Fogleman said it is important to keep in line with the protocols.

“We can’t let our guard down and let fatigue over testing or mask wearing set in, especially as we see cases rise around the country,” Fogleman said. “Our university focus is on making sure that our students finish the fall semester strong and on campus. Also, we want our students to be healthy when they head home for Thanksgiving to complete the rest of the semester, which in turn will help keep their families healthy over the holidays as well.”

Muehlenbein said the testing and all the rules may feel inconvenient, but it is the only way the nation and Baylor itself can get back to any sort of normal.

“It’s a responsibility that we have for us to stay open to continue testing, and it’s our responsibility to try to make it as convenient as possible of course, but I think it’s important that everybody remembers that it’s a responsibility that we have to the community we live in,” Muehlenbein said. “Baylor does not exist in a vacuum. We are integrated with the community in various ways, so making sure that we are not spreading to the large proportion of those who are disadvantaged in McLennan County is part of Baylor’s mission.”