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COVID-19 Update: Testing | Contact Tracing | Preventative Health Practice
Dear Students, Families, Faculty and Staff:
Three weeks of classes are complete and we are heading into the final weekend of summer. We have performed more than 15,500 surveillance tests on campus this semester, and we currently count 148 active COVID cases on our campus. Given our experience over the first three weeks of the semester, I want to share with you some of what we have learned from the data and our experience to date:
- Random Surveillance Testing Positivity Rate: One of the key metrics we are closely monitoring to assess COVID transmission on campus is the positivity rate among those participating in random surveillance testing. The positivity rate is defined as the percentage of positive test results identified from the total population randomly selected to test each week. With three weeks of surveillance testing almost complete, the test positivity rate has remained consistent since the start of classes. The test positivity rate for the first week of classes was 1.1%; for week two it was 1.3%; and with two days of testing remaining this week, positivity for week three currently stands at 1%. The generally stable nature of this metric, to date, is a positive indicator of where our overall public health situation stands.
- Active Cases on Campus: As of today, we count 148 active cases on campus, and we’ve seen a modest decline in the number of total active cases over the past few days. The majority of positive cases confirmed since the start of classes have been among students (93%). Transmission is occurring primarily among vaccinated individuals (93%), which is to be expected given the exceedingly high rate of vaccination on campus. It is also the case that the overwhelming majority of vaccinated individuals who have tested positive are asymptomatic or exhibit mild, cold-like symptoms.
- Primary Drivers of Transmission: From contact tracing data, it’s clear that non-academic activities and communal living situations are the primary drivers of transmission. So far this year, like last year, we have not been able to definitively link a new COVID infection to a specific classroom exposure. Contact tracing data, combined with the disparity between student and employee cases, continues to demonstrate the efficacy of behavioral health measures like masking in group settings as central to mitigating transmission.
While our situation remains manageable, we all must stay vigilant and committed to the public health protocols in place to keep all members of our community safe and well. And, as cold and flu season quickly approaches, it’s critical we take additional preventative measures to protect ourselves, our families and our community. With that in mind, I have a few important pieces of information and updates to share regarding:
- Randomized Surveillance Testing for Vaccinated Individuals
- Testing Center Reminder
- Contact Tracing
- Maintaining Good Health Practices
Randomized Surveillance Testing for Vaccinated Individuals: I visit the Stadium Testing Center on a regular basis and am heartened to see so many of you enthusiastically participating in our randomized surveillance testing program. Because many vaccinated individuals never experience symptoms, randomized testing is key to detecting positive cases that may otherwise go undetected. Overall, we have conducted more than 15,500 tests, and are working toward routinely conducting more than 10,000 tests per week.
Testing Center: As a reminder, on-demand COVID-19 testing is available to all members of our community—students, faculty, staff and the families of our employees. Testing hours are:
- Monday: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (Stadium)
- Tuesday: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (Stadium)
- Wednesday: noon-7 p.m. (Stadium)
- Thursday: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (Stadium)
- Friday: 8:30-10:30 a.m. (Stadium)
- Saturday: Closed
- Sunday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Kimmel Dining Hall)
No appointments are required. Please bring your Syracuse University I.D. and refrain from eating, drinking anything (including water), brushing your teeth or using mouthwash, chewing gum or using any tobacco products in the 30 minutes prior to testing. To learn more about how to prepare for a COVID-19 test, please watch this short video.
Contact Tracing: Although the COVID-19 vaccines continue to perform well in terms of limiting serious illness and hospitalizations, breakthrough cases are still happening across the country and here in Onondaga County. As a residential community, one of our best ways to mitigate transmission is quickly identifying, isolating and contact tracing positive cases. The Public Health Team has received questions from some faculty members about the contact tracing process specific to the classroom and I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify the process.
- For each positive case, contact tracers look for potential exposures within the infectious period for COVID-19. This is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as two days before the onset of symptoms or two days before a positive test if the individual has no symptoms.
- Next, within that window, contact tracers work to identify close contacts of the COVID-positive individual. Close contacts are defined as individuals who were within 6 feet of the person who tests positive for a total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period during that two-day infectious window, regardless of whether the contact was wearing a mask.
- If someone in a class is diagnosed with COVID-19, classmates and instructors are notified only if that individual was present in class during the infectious period. This is why faculty members may receive a notification of a student’s absence in Orange Success, but may not be contacted by staff regarding a potential exposure. Students in your class may also be notified as close contacts who were with the COVID-positive individual in settings outside of class, even when the positive student did not attend class during the infectious period.
- Out of an abundance of caution, the University does inform all classmates when an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 attended class during the infectious period, even though not all classmates meet the definition of close contact.
- Close contacts who are vaccinated are advised to wear a mask at all times and test at the Testing Center. Close contacts with a vaccination exemption are placed in quarantine.
- Quarantine and isolation protocols are outlined in the COVID-19 Response Checklists.
Maintaining Good Health Practices: With cold and flu season quickly approaching and our ongoing collective efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, I can’t stress enough the importance of continued adherence to public health guidelines and employing these easy preventive health practices.
- Monitor your health for COVID-like symptoms.
- Not feeling well? Stay home! Students should contact the Barnes Center if experiencing COVID-like symptoms; faculty and staff should contact their primary care physician.
- Get a flu shot at your earliest convenience. As a reminder, all members of our community (except those with documented exemptions) are expected to have a flu shot prior to the start of the Spring 2022 semester. Information about on-campus flu shot clinics will be shared when it becomes available.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
- Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing (a mask is always a great preventative measure).
- Try to socialize in small groups and outdoors when you can. If you are indoors, open windows and use fans to circulate air.
- Avoid sharing food, drinks or smoking devices.
Thank you for your continued attention to the University’s public health guidelines. The precautions and preventative measures in place are accomplishing exactly what they are designed to do—limit transmission, minimize serious illness and prevent hospitalization. I remain proud of the work we have done together over the past 18 months and what we will continue this year, to maximize our time together on campus while maintaining a safe and healthy community.
J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation