EL PASO, Texas – While the number of COVID-19 cases in El Paso County has risen significantly over the past two weeks, The University of Texas at El Paso is continuing its mission to teach and conduct research in a safe campus environment and is evaluating additional measures that will help the region to suppress the disease.
UTEP is teaching and working by distance when possible, following best health practices on campus, and identifying asymptomatic individuals carrying the virus early who may not otherwise know they are sick so that they can stay home and get better.
Although UTEP saw an increase in positive coronavirus cases among students and employees in the last week, the positivity rate is significantly lower than in the community around us.
In light of the increases at UTEP and in El Paso County, the University will work with faculty to obtain additional information about in-person and hybrid classes to determine whether adjustments can be made to further decrease density on campus by moving courses to larger classrooms or even outdoors.
In addition, because last week’s on-campus drive-through testing was so successful, UTEP will look into additional options for drive-through testing on campus and will continue to model using best health practices all the time, including participation in proactive community testing.
As the El Paso region sees record numbers of positive COVID-19 cases, more UTEP students, faculty and staff are taking advantage of the University’s free Coronavirus Proactive Testing Program. For the week of Oct. 5-11, 2,691 students, faculty and staff — a record high number — were tested through the University’s program and a total of 72 were positive cases. This represents a positivity rate of 2.7% for the week, compared to 11.1% in the larger El Paso community.
Fifty-three percent of those who tested positive through UTEP’s program last week are taking all online classes or working remotely.
The increase in UTEP cases was not unexpected given the substantial increase in positive cases reported by the City of El Paso in recent weeks. When UTEP identifies a positive individual who has been on campus, the University’s Environmental Health and Safety staff immediately notifies anyone who may have been in contact with that person on campus and encourages them to be tested, and the workspace or classroom is thoroughly cleaned.
The University’s dispersed approach to working, teaching and research, when possible, and proactive testing program to find asymptomatic carriers of the disease, coupled with a culture of using best health practices such as social distancing, wearing face masks and washing hands, seems to have been effective at maintaining safety while we continue our mission.
“We are actively trying to find people who have no symptoms or are very early in the course of their disease so that they can stay home and get better,” UTEP President Heather Wilson said. “While a surprising number of our cases have been 100% remote students who haven’t been on campus at all except to get tested, supporting them as they stay home and continue to learn helps the community.”