What works to keep positive COVID-19 cases low?

The Swiss Cheese Model is what Baylor has touted as its most important defense against the pandemic. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

The rate of COVID-19 cases has been on the rise, breaking records almost daily for reported cases. What can the United States do to bring down the number of positive cases while waiting for the vaccine?

Dr. Benjamin Ryan, clinical associate professor of environmental science, said COVID-19 prevention needs to be handled on the local level to be most effective.

“We’re seeing a lot of pandemic fatigue is the big challenge,” Ryan said. “We need reinforced face coverings … Bars and restaurants are prime locations for this to spread. So full-service restaurants, key high-risk areas so if we were to respond now to what we’re seeing, it needs to be a precise response.”

Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology Dr. Michael Muehlenbein said that even on the local level, American people historically are resistant to any kind of government control.

“We see that lockdowns clearly work. They absolutely work,” Muehlenbein said. “Unfortunately that does come at enormous costs. If a government should make such a decision, they also need to be prepared to cover those costs, so you’re talking about a mass amount of unemployment of companies temporarily closing and then becoming permanently closed. … There is no easy decision here, but we are talking about economic well being versus death.”

Muehlenbein said Americans in general do not want to be told what to do by the government, but many Texans have even bigger problems with government control than the average American.

“Texas is its own animal,” Muehlenbein said. “The argument that people are using for masking, you know, my mask, my body. Well, you know you’re not just doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for others. A slight inconvenience is not the same thing as government oppression.”

A big problem now after months of the pandemic is that people have become numb to the rising number of cases each day, Muehlenbein said. On Nov. 11, around 140,000 new cases were reported.

“We have 140,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with COVID,” Muehlenbein said. “That’s a record in one day. Each of those is an individual associated with a huge social network and family. We’re not talking about 140,000 people impacted … We do know that death is significant. We do know that long term disability is significant, and because of that, at some point … placing tighter restrictions on some of our activities is something that is proven to work in other countries and could work here as well. We’ve seen the different states and different counties that have had different lockdown policies. Those which have been more [strict], we’ve seen fewer cases afterwards.”

At Baylor, Muehlenbein said the protocols to keep COVID-19 under control on campus have worked well, and it’s important to protect not only the Baylor family, but the community in Waco.

“There are a large proportion of individuals in McLennan County that are highly susceptible to COVID,” Muehlenbein said. “60,000 people out of the 250,000 live below the poverty line, so our mission at Baylor is one of compassion, and so that means that we need to be taking the steps that are necessary not just to protect ourselves and not just to protect the loved ones that we’re going to go see on Thanksgiving break, but specifically to protect the individuals that surround us on a daily basis. If that means increased surveillance testing, if it means limiting some activities, then these are small conveniences I think we have to take.”

President Linda Livingstone said in the Presidential Perspective on Nov. 12 that within the “Baylor Bubble,” cases have stayed relatively low throughout the semester.

“However, we have experienced a steadying increase of cases since the end of October, including case counts of more than 100 over the past several days for the first time since mid-September,” Livingstone said. “We must guard against pandemic fatigue or complacency with preventive measures and protocols.”

Even though everyone is ready for the pandemic to be over, Ryan said remaining positive is important.

“We have a vaccine, and according to Dr. Fauci and many other experts in this area, they believe that’s going to be widely available by April, so be optimistic that there’s light at the end of this tunnel that you can probably have a normal summer.”

Of course, this is assuming enough people get the vaccine, Muehlenbein said.

“It does rely on a certain percentage of the population to get vaccinated for all of this to work,” Muehlenbein said. “Given the state of things and what people are reporting and their willingness to get vaccinated, I don’t know if we’ll be able to accomplish that anytime soon. I’m afraid that instead of being wiped out within months … this could actually be a rather protracted process.”