Baylor focuses on controlling COVID-19 spike while student vaccination rates rise

Current active COVID-19 cases: 92 (As of August 24)

By Camille Cox | Staff Writer

While the COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in McLennan County, student vaccination rates at Baylor are increasing daily.

As of Wednesday, 68.2% of students, faculty and staff were reported to be vaccinated. Dr. Jim Marsh, dean for Student Health & Wellness and a member of the Health Management Team, expects this number to continue to rise throughout the semester.

“I am starting to feel better about them [vaccination rates] every day,” Marsh said. “We have seen a lot of students submit their vaccine information.”

Marsh explained the Health Management Team recognized the expected spike in cases when students returned to campus last week and implemented several health measures to keep students and faculty safe.

With Texas’ data showing that there was a spike in COVID-19 cases around Aug. 21, Marsh said that Baylor planned for a spike with students returning then as well.

“The decisions that we made to manage that have been to make the shift to require masks in specific areas, particularly in the classroom, where we no longer have social distancing and students are sitting close together,” Marsh said.

Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director of Baylor Health Services, agreed that the team expected a spike in COVID-19 cases after students returned given the influx of people from a variety of cities and states.

“We will have a spike, but hopefully it will not be too high and resolve quickly,” Stern said. “I say this because of the increased contagion with the delta variant of COVID and with a significant percentage of students not vaccinated.”

In McLennan County, 87% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated, according to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District’s weekly COVID-19 report. While vaccination rates on campus are different from the city’s rates, the two groups will depend on each other now that students are back on campus.

“Since Baylor students, faculty and staff interact with the Waco community and both affect each other, an increase in cases on campus will affect the Waco community and vice versa,” Stern said.

Additionally, in the last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine. With regard to Baylor, Stern expects this to positively affect student vaccination rates.

“I think we will see more students get vaccinated, especially since Pfizer got full FDA approval,” Stern said. “There are some people who have been waiting before they get the vaccine, and I think this group may want to do that now.”

Marsh and Stern have both noticed that students who are hesitant to get the vaccine often feel that way due to misinformation and because the topic has become much more politicized.

“Like it or not, this has become a very political issue,” Marsh said. “We have this intersection of a health issue intersecting with politics.”

Baylor will hold a vaccine clinic for students and faculty this Friday, during the Late Night event held on campus. For more information on COVID-19 or the vaccine, visit the Baylor COVID-19 dashboard or the COVID Waco website.

“To all of the unvaccinated, I would say: read scientific articles. Believe the healthcare workers who are dealing with COVID every day. Look around and see that we need to unite against a common enemy: the SARS-CoV2 virus,” Stern said.