In-person events return with added measures

Student Activities monitors active COVID-19 cases among student organizations and will revoke the right to host in-person events if an organization shows a spike in positive results. Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

Many in-person events have resumed for student organizations, but COVID-19 cases are monitored much closer now.

Rather than limiting events for the whole campus community, Matt Burchett, director of Student Activities, said the department has begun to put a brief hold on in-person events for any specific organizations with caseloads outside of the university average. In-person events are reactivated when the organization caseload becomes more manageable and in-line with averages.

Burchett said after the fall semester, he heard student’s plead for in-person meetings and events, so Student Activities implemented weekly testing and more narrowly tailored their approach to the data to reach these goals for the spring 2021 semester.

“In the fall, one of the challenges was that we were testing 10% of our population for our surveillance Covid testing, which gave us decent information as it relates to what’s happening in the campus community but not complete information,” Burchett said. “One of our aspirations going into the spring was to be more open, to host more events, to be able to allow student organizations to meet in person more frequently.”

By implementing mass weekly testing this semester, Baylor is able to more accurately track any significant case increases among student organizations and their members, Burchett said.

“What weekly testing has provided for us is that our student relations have, at times, contributed to some modest increase in cases, but they are certainly not the primary catalysts for caseloads,” Burchett said. “Instead of hypothesizing and making decisions out of that assumption, we’re able to get hard data; make real decisions related to what is creating any kind of uptick in cases.”

A few organizations have already been notified of a high positivity rate among members this semester. Burchett said groups are identified and alerted of their high caseload usually within 12 hours of receipt. If the positivity rate continues to rise, they’re put on a 10-day, virtual pause from any in-person events. The group will then be reevaluated after the 10-day period.

Positivity rates operate on percentages, Burchett said, in order to depict comparable numbers.

“Every single day, twice a day, we look at the university percentage of COVID cases per student. Then we look at a student organization, the total number of positive active cases based on the total membership of that organization,” Burchett said.

In the case that the student organization or their social activities are not a clear indicator of high case count, Burchett said other factors in the spread of COVID-19 are investigated.

“We’ve had some circumstances in which there was a high case count, but it was three houses that all got it, from the same organization. It’s clear that may have isolated those individuals who live in those residences. So, we take that into account when we release the organization of that virtual hold,” Burchett said.

So far, high caseloads have not persisted past the 10-day pause, and Burchett said Student Activities is doing their best to ensure space and time for any in-person events missed during that time.

Katy senior Hope Loveday, president of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, said the organization has met 100% virtually this semester.

“We certainly want to have some in-person meetings soon, but this is still a very crucial time in the pandemic for everyone to do their best to keep numbers low,” Loveday said.

Chamber of Commerce plans to eventually hold in-person meetings as safely as possible by reserving social-distance friendly meeting spaces, wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces, Loveday said.

“At the end of the day, Baylor is trying to implement guidelines that keep as many people safe as possible while still allowing for in-person classes and activities,” Loveday said. “Which is more than many other universities have been able to do, and I am grateful for that.”