Every Friday, my university updates its COVID case tracker. They list how many students had a positive test in the past week; this can come from either testing positive in the campus health center, or from a student obtaining a positive test result off campus. Of course, this means the total number of infected students is probably higher. Unlike some other schools (my grad school alma mater, UConn, for example), UT does not do random testing, and some students test positive at off-campus venues and don't report it to UT. On top of that, students have told me that if you go to the health center and ask for a test, they try to discourage you from getting one if you're not symptomatic.
The chart is somewhat striking:
We had an initial steep rise, things backed off somewhat, and in the past couple weeks have bounced back up.
Now, I should say I am not terribly worried about my personal safety. While 550 students have reported positive cases since the semester began, only 5 faculty and staff have-- and the Dean informed us at this week's college meeting that contact tracing indicates all those faculty and staff were infected off campus, not in pursuit of their college duties. So it seems the things we're doing in the classroom to mitigate transmission (limited class sizes, masks, and so on) are working. Students are getting infected in their social interactions, in the dorms, and at parties and clubs and so on.
(That said, we were told to make seating charts for contact tracing... and never given anywhere to submit those seating charts, and no one has ever contacted me to do contact tracing when any of my students have become infected.)
I know from talking to my students, that some students take it very seriously, and some students absolutely do not take it seriously at all. An old student I chatted to this week who is playing it totally safe-- they and their suitemates do no go out, and do not interact-- told me they thought it was probably around 45/55 don't take it seriously / do take it seriously.
The Tampa Bay Times has a weekly feature where they round up all the COVID statistics from local schools: K-12 and higher education. If you read this column, what will strike you is that the number of students infected at the University of South Florida is usually about the same as the number infected at UT:
Until the past couple weeks, at least, when USF's kept level but UT's swung back up. (The Times first reported the total number of infected USF students in its 5 Sept. column.)
But of course USF is a big state school, and UT is a mid-sized private one. So yesterday I sat down and worked out the positive tests as a percentage of total population. UT has 9,605 students enrolled this fall, though that includes students taking classes remotely and (I think) on-line. USF's three campuses had 50,927 students enrolled as of the 2019-20 school year (I couldn't find this year's numbers), though that includes things like the graduate program and the medical school (but I think the positive case numbers do too). The numbers might not be exactly comparable, but the ballpark idea that there are five times as many USF students than UT ones ought to be valid. If you graph as a percentage of total population, the differences are stark:
USF has never even broken 0.2% of students testing positive in a single week. I also looked at the cumulative cases thus far. (This is not quite accurate, because I think if you report multiple positive tests you would get counted again each week that happens, but it gives a sense of how many students overall have been infected at some point.)
At this point, over 5% of UT's population has had a positive COVID test at some point, while not even 1% of USF's has!
Quite why this should be, I don't know. Does USF have fewer in-person students? (UT made it difficult for students to go fully remote.) Do they actually enforce their penalties for partying? Are they just even worse at testing than UT? Is it about the location? (UT is downtown, USF is out in Temple Terrace.) Do UT students just like to party more than USF students?
I don't know what the cause is but it seems to speak poorly of either the behavior of students or administration (or both) at UT.