UW sees significant drop in COVID-19 cases from Fall semester

COVID-19 Vaccinations are administered at the Mountain View Medical Park building in Laramie, Wyoming on Jan. 15, 2021. UW Associate professor Brant Schumaker gets the COVID-19 vaccine from Albany County Public Health Nurse Claire Naylor at the Mountain View Medical Park building in Laramie, Wyoming on Jan. 15, 2021. The early administered vaccines were given by UW staff and Albany County Public Health.

The number of COVID-19 cases at the University of Wyoming during the spring semester so far is significantly lower than the fall semester, in concert with a trend of declining cases in the state and nation.

Of the total 1,994 cases reported among UW employees and students since the pandemic began, 179 have been reported so far this calendar year. And, even as UW has continued a rigorous testing program this semester, the positivity rate during the first five weeks has been significantly lower than during the same period in the fall semester.

For example, while sample prevalence rose from .34% in the first week of the fall semester to .85% in week five, it dropped from .34% in the first week of the spring semester to .07% in week five.

As of Thursday, the number of active cases stood at six — two on-campus students and four off-campus students. The number of people in 14-day quarantine due to exposure to the virus is 15 — 12 on-campus students, and three off-campus students and employees.

“This is a dramatic, positive change, and I want to thank the entire UW family for stepping up to help make our community safer — both those who are responsibly participating in the testing and those who work endlessly to manage the process,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “We know that our requirements for testing, physical distancing, wearing of masks and avoiding large gatherings have required a lot of our community. But our students, faculty and staff have displayed true UW Cowboy spirit in complying, and these measures have helped us get to where we are today.”

UW’s surveillance program, one of the most innovative in the nation, has conducted a total of 116,153 tests, with 1,277 positive results, for a prevalence rate of 1.11%. So far this month, however, there have been just 60 positives among 29,325 tests, for a prevalence rate of .20%.

Public health experts say continued adherence to COVID-19 requirements and guidelines is essential for the trend to continue.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” Seidel says. “The virus is still out there, and we could see a resurgence if we conclude that this battle is over and stop doing what we’re doing.”

UW is planning for a fall 2021 semester with more in-person experiences and fewer restrictions related to COVID-19, contingent upon vaccine availability and acceptance, along with continued downward trends in infection numbers.

Under the plan, UW faculty and staff members would need to have access to the vaccine at least six weeks ahead of the scheduled Aug. 23 start of the fall semester in order for the semester to proceed with face-to-face classes at maximum capacity, face-to-face student engagement programs, in-person athletics experiences and the like. Additionally, relaxation of Wyoming Department of Health rules and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding gatherings and classroom capacity will be necessary. Vaccine efficacy and acceptance — at this point, at least 70% of members of the UW community will need to be vaccinated to achieve necessary levels of immunity — also will be taken into account, along with COVID-19 infection numbers.

University leaders expect to have enough information on those matters in early June to make a final determination on the approach to the fall semester.

UW is collaborating with Albany County Public Health and Ivinson Memorial Hospital to administer vaccines to county residents who are in categories 4-6 of the Phase 1b priority schedule in the Wyoming Department of Health’s distribution guidelines. It’s not yet known when Albany County will begin Phase 1c, but UW faculty and staff members, along with residence hall students, will fall under that phase. All students will be encouraged to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, based on their current locations.

More information about UW’s COVID-19 response can be found at www.uwyo.edu/campus-return, which is being updated as information becomes available. Those with questions about testing and other COVID-19 issues may call (307) 766-COVD (2683) or email COVID19@uwyo.edu.

Questions specifically about the vaccine should be emailed to COVIDVX@uwyo.edu. A UW vaccine webpage has been established at www.uwyo.edu/alerts/campus-return/vaccination.

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