Texas Christian University has warned students about a spike in COVID-19 cases, saying parties and large gatherings are contributing to the spread.
According to TCU’s online tracking tool, the school reported 418 active cases on Monday. TCU defines active cases as people in isolation, who have tested positive.
Last Thursday, the number was 360. A week before that, as school was just starting for the fall, it was 55.
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In an email to students on Thursday, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull wrote, “We literally cannot keep up with the pace of the spread we are experiencing this week.”
The letter pointed to large gatherings at residence halls and off-campus as contributing to the spread.
Cavins-Tull warned student behavior must change in order to avoid returning to fully remote learning.
“The freshman just got there they don’t want to move out or go home,” said Benton McDonald, a TCU senior and journalist for TCU 360.
McDonald, covering the spike in COVID-19 cases, said it’s clear the university doesn’t want to go fully online – pointing to a string of reminders from the administration to students about COVID-19 precautions.
McDonald pointed to a downturn in numbers on Monday.
“I think they’ve done a good job for the in-class protocols: wearing a mask, social distancing in classrooms,” explained McDonald. “I think the issue that’s risen is the large gatherings and the parties.”
Jason Helms, a TCU English professor, points out there aren’t any real consequences for students caught at restricted gatherings.
“They keep getting emails that say 'don’t go to parties.' What if they do?” asked Helms.
“I’m not for cracking down on the students. I don’t think it’s their fault, but without some consequences, that rule doesn’t matter and that’s why it’s not working,” Helms added.
Helms, the father of a toddler with a heart condition, spent part of his summer advocating for an online learning option during the pandemic.
Helms said TCU should go fully on-line for at least two weeks, asking students to quarantine in order to help contain the spread. He said the university should expand testing to make it mandatory and consider weekly wastewater testing to track outbreaks.
“The plan didn’t work, it’s not working so let’s look at the plan again and change it. While we’re doing that, we need to stop and move things online during that time,” Helms said.
Helms worries the case numbers are undercounted, saying students who test for COVID-19 off-campus are asked to voluntarily report positive tests. He’s also calling for positivity rate reporting to be included in the school’s online tracking tool.
“It’s gotten so bad, so quickly I’m very worried about where it’s going to go in the next few weeks,” said Helms.
TCU has said it is offering transparency by including off-campus positive case numbers, pointing to some schools that only include on-campus case data.
In an emailed statement to NBC 5 on Monday, regarding COVID-19 cases, TCU writes:
We are dedicated to supporting a healthy community and following CDC guidelines for slowing the spread of COVID-19. We are proactively testing, contact tracing and providing student support, as well as monitoring multiple aspects affecting the health of our community in partnership with Tarrant County Public Health. We identify positive cases that are connected by events, organizations or frequent close contact through contact tracing. Our plan takes an aggressive stance on prevention measures by asking our community to follow our health and safety guidelines, and be tested, take classes online and quarantine or isolate as necessary. It is our goal as a community to keep our students, faculty and staff safe, and continue our prevention and mitigation efforts.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.