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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M’s guidelines for COVID-19

Opinion+columnist+Zach+Freeman+advocates+a+return+to+mask+wearing+to+prevent+the+spread+of+the+new+omicron+variant+of+COVID-19.
Photo by Photo by Abbey Santoro

Opinion columnist Zach Freeman advocates a return to mask wearing to prevent the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

After nearly a year and a half of virtual learning, Texas A&M is returning to full capacity in-person learning Monday, Aug. 30.
Amid rising infection numbers of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, public health officials are keeping a close eye on the Brazos Valley community, which has been designated a high-transmission area by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. In preparation for the fall semester, The Battalion has gathered a list of facts and resources for students, faculty and staff regarding COVID-19 prevention and mitigation on campus.
Infection rates
According to the Washington Post, Texas saw an average of 16,991 positive COVID-19 cases per day during the week of Aug. 15 to Aug. 21, bringing the state to No. 11 nationwide for most confirmed cases during that period. The delta variant makes up roughly 80 percent of these cases, according to the CDC.
Locally, Brazos County Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan said in an Aug. 18 press conference that positive COVID-19 case seven-day and 14-day averages have “at least doubled” since the beginning of the month. As of Sunday, Aug. 22, 25,748 total cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brazos County, according to the Brazos County Health District, or BCHD.
The most recent data provided by the A&M COVID-19 Dashboard reported 21 new cases among students and 10 new cases among faculty and staff on Aug. 19, bringing the campus total to 286 active cases.
Reporting positive cases on campus
In an Aug. 5 press release, university President Kathy Banks laid out campus guidelines for the coming fall semester to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Aggieland.
Any student, faculty or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 or comes into close contact with someone who has tested positive at any point during the fall semester is required to report online using the COVID-19 Reporting Form. Those individuals may be expected to isolate or quarantine from campus, depending on vaccination status and symptom presence, as determined by the A&M COVID-19 Operations Center.
Without virtual learning options that were available during previous semesters of the pandemic, students required to isolate or quarantine are expected to keep up with their coursework and make arrangements with their professors per Student Rule No. 7, according to the press release.
“Students testing positive for COVID-19 should assess personal needs for missed classes or assignments, consult course syllabi and contact course instructor of record to coordinate arrangements, as appropriate,” the press release reads.
A&M’s prevention strategies
Due to Gov. Greg Abbot’s Executive Order No. GA-36, which prohibits Texas public school systems and other government entities from implementing mask mandates, A&M cannot require students, faculty or staff to wear masks on campus. However, Banks said in the Aug. 5 guidance that campus members are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks in indoor spaces and to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Considering the continued infection rates in the nation and recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the university is asking the campus community to do its part by taking important steps to keep Aggieland healthy and safe,” Banks said.
An additional step the university is taking to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as students return to campus is a mandatory COVID-19 testing program. All students attending in-person classes and all faculty and staff planning to work on campus, regardless of vaccination status, are required to get tested at an official A&M testing site and report the results between Aug. 23 and Sept. 10. Additionally, the university will be continuing its random testing program throughout the fall semester.
“Students reported for failing to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 reporting and/or quarantine/isolation requirements will go through the Student Conduct Process,” the press release reads. “Faculty and staff who do not comply with mandatory COVID-19 reporting, testing and/or quarantine/isolation requirements will receive a written reprimand, at a minimum, that will impact their eligibility for merit increases and also will be subject to other, more severe, disciplinary action as appropriate.”
More information about COVID-19 testing sites on campus is available at tamu.edu/coronavirus.
Vaccinations
COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be offered free of cost by Student Health Services.
In the Aug. 18 BCHD press conference, Sullivan said roughly 46 percent of Brazos County residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We would like those numbers higher, clearly, as we are still battling COVID-19 and currently with its high transmissibility rate,” Sullivan said. “Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On campus, Dr. Martha Dannenbaum, director of Student Health Services, told The Battalion the School of Public Health has estimated between 20 and 25 percent of A&M’s student population has been vaccinated.
According to the CDC, breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated individuals account for less than 1 percent of the 166 million Americans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Like with other vaccines, vaccine breakthrough cases will occur, even though the vaccines are working as expected,” the CDC website reads. “Asymptomatic infections among vaccinated people will also occur. There is some evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe for those who are vaccinated and still get sick.”
Dannenbaum told The Battalion vaccination is still the best defense against the delta variant.
“It’s very similar to the flu shot,” Dannenbaum said. “You get a flu shot and may still get the flu, but it’s usually much shorter and much less severe. Your risk of dying goes down a lot.”
While A&M is not requiring students, faculty or staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before coming to campus, President Banks did announce in the Aug. 5 guidance an incentive for campus members to “get vaxxed.”
A drawing will be held on Oct. 15 to incentivize vaccinations among Aggies. Students have the chance to win a year’s tuition, and faculty and staff have the opportunity to win a $1,000 prize if they submit proof of vaccination.
Sullivan said regardless of vaccination status, individuals should still continue following CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the local community as the virus becomes more transmissible, including wearing masks in indoor spaces and frequently washing hands.
“What we can do is control what we can control,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s the most important take home message, that we do what we can do. As individuals, we can take responsibility for our health the very best that we can.”
Editor’s Note: Nathan Varnell contributed to this report.

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