During the first week of fall classes, 424 Auburn University students and employees reported testing positive for COVID-19. Over 21% of all people who received a COVID-19 test from the Auburn University Medical Clinic tested positive during that week.
That did not come as a surprise to Dr. Fred Kam, director of the Medical Clinic. Two weeks ago, Kam said he was expecting the increase once students return to campus for the fall semester.
“We are dealing with what’s going to be an expected increase in cases at the start of the semester for a number of reasons: We’re bringing 30,000 people plus employees and staff all back onto campus,” Kam said in an Aug. 13 Auburn University COVID-19 Resource Center video update.
The return to campus, increased testing capacity and the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant are all reasons for the spike in reported cases, Kam said. He expects the number of cases to continue to rise for the next three weeks.
The number of reported cases is also lower than the actual number of people who have contracted the virus.
“Like this entire pandemic, the numbers are below what is reality,” Kam wrote in an email to The Plainsman. “There are many people who are infected but asymptomatic and spreading the virus. There are also people who are symptomatic and thinking it is not COVID but allergies or something else. And there are people who are symptomatic but choose not to get tested. The numbers worldwide are an underestimation.”
No students or employees have been hospitalized, but a few have become seriously ill from contracting the virus, Kam said.
The “overwhelming majority” of people who tested positive were unvaccinated, Kam said.
The positivity rate of tests administered at the Medical Clinic last week also marked a recent high. The 21.5% positivity rate is the highest of all data shown on the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, although Kam said he doesn’t believe it is the Medical Clinic’s highest positivity rate throughout the pandemic.
Kam said the 21.5% positivity rate is high but is also not unexpected as the delta variant is more contagious and is the primary strain in the area. Although exact proportions are not known, delta currently makes up the “vast majority” of infections in Auburn and Lee County, in line with nationwide data, he said.
The Medical Clinic is able to trace potential outbreaks when individuals submit a self-report form, which all students and employees are required to do after testing positive. Many of the cases have been traced to social events, individual behaviors and exposure to household members, while none have been traced back to classroom spread, Kam said.
The fall 2020 semester also began with a large number of COVID-19 cases. During the week of Aug. 30, 2020, 570 students or employees reported testing positive for COVID-19, and 598 reported a positive test the following week, the most for one week throughout the pandemic. Cases reported fell off sharply after that before reaching a second peak of 113 during the week of Jan. 17.
Vaccines are the best way out of the pandemic, according to Kam and other health officials. In an email to The Plainsman, Kam shared guidance for those who are vaccinated and want to limit the spread of the virus in their community.
“First, encourage their friends to get vaccinated, wear masks as much as possible, limit their interactions with others, especially group settings, and get tested if they have symptoms or are exposed,” Kam said.
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