UT Austin tracks uptick in COVID-19 cases at the start of winter break

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Winter break officially started for many University of Texas students with the closing of residence halls, but the campus is tracking an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

As of Wednesday, there were 137 active cases on campus, with 48 new cases just reported on that day. The university reported another 59 new positive tests among students, too. KXAN spoke with Dr. Amy Young, the chief clinical officer at Dell Medical School, about how those new cases were identified.

“This disease now really reflects what we’re seeing in the community and based on the info, we suspect we might have omicron in the community,” Dr. Young said about the spike in COVID-19 cases at the school. “We’re able to detect it, because we’re looking for it, but it really affects what is going on in the background.”

The first possible cases of the omicron variant in Travis County were detected at UT Austin earlier in the week, first reported on Dec. 13. Austin Public Health said the people were all vaccinated but not boosted and had not traveled internationally — strongly indicating community transmission.

The cases have not been confirmed as omicron variants, but the cases were sent for sequencing.

“We expect the sequencing to come out hopefully early to mid next week, and then we can confirm,” Dr. Young said.

Despite a spike in cases, testing on campus has been down, and Dr. Young attributes that to exams.

“Students are in exams, so we’re not seeing as much testing as we were seeing before,” said Young. “We really made testing accessible … [and it’s] been available to students all along.”

While omicron is believed to be highly transmissible based on early data, it’s not yet known whether it causes more severe illness.

UT was not making any changes to campus COVID-19 protocols, but was encouraging students to get tested before going home for break. School leaders are also urging students to get both vaccinated and boosted.

To find locations to get tested, visit UT’s website.

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