Friday October 2, 2020 | Wade Fagen-Ulmschenider
With the latest bits of data we’ve learned about the testing around COVID-19 at The University of Illinois, it appears that around 10% of the undergraduate population has likely been infected with COVID-19.
Most of this analysis begins with an article written by Ethan Simmons in The Daily Illini (“Nearly 5% of UI tested population has been infected as COVID-19 spread continues”), who compiled two key bits of information that has been shared by the University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District:
[UIUC spokesperson Robin] Kaler said [...] about 35,000 students are living on and around campus.
Awais Vaid of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District previously said over 95% of all campus cases have been from undergraduate students.
The University of Illinois does not release the number of undergraduate students living around campus, but we can make a reasonable assumption from the Fall 2019 numbers. Among the 51,196 students enrolled at The University of Illinois, 66.1% (33,850) are undergraduate students. We can reasonable assume that 70% (±10%) of the students having been tested are undergraduate students.
35,000 students on campus × 70% (±10%) undergraduates = 24,500 undergraduate students on/around campus (± 3,500 students)
2,511 total unique cases of COVID-19 at UIUC × over 95% of cases are undergraduate student = at least 2,385 undergraduate cases
2,385 undergraduate cases / 24,500 undergraduate students (±3,500 students) = 9.73% (8.5% - 11.3%).
This is a seriously alarming number – around 10% of all undergraduates at The University of Illinois has a confirmed case of COVID-19. When we compare geographical regions, we look at case rates normalized by the population as cases per 100,000 or 1,000,000 people. At 9,730 cases per 100,000 people (9.73%), this rate is:
Below is a data-forward, interactive visualization showing the growth of this number, using the calculation outlined above, followed by a few caveats about this analysis:
The University of Illinois rarely discloses the total number of people tested, instead focusing on just the number of tests. The best information I could found was also in Simmons’ article:
According to [UIUC spokesperson Robin] Kaler, 48,605 students, faculty and staff have tested with on-campus saliva tests since they were introduced on July 6.
There is no information available about who those 48,605 people are or how often they have been tested. Given that 35,000 people who test weekly, there are over 13,000 people who have been tested by The University of Illinois – this could change the underlying “undergraduate positive rate” significantly if we had more information about those people.
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, the University of Illinois administrator wrote to the campus community to initiate a two-week “lockdown” for undergraduate students:
Starting today at 5 p.m., for the next two weeks for their own protection, we expect all undergraduate students to limit their in-person interactions to only the most essential activities. These include things like taking twice weekly COVID-19 tests, attending class, purchasing groceries and food, going to work, engaging in individual outdoor activity, attending religious services and seeking medical attention.
Today, Illinois released the latest testing data from the last day of the “lockdown” (Sept. 16):
The data indicates that University of Illinois undergraduate students have respected the imposed “lockdown” measures over the two weeks. We see the same trend in the reported test positivity:
The key takeaway here is not only that the measures are working but that other schools experiencing spikes should consider similar measures alongside robust testing, contact tracing, and required preventive measures like masks, distancing, and handwashing. (We see that the University of Wisconsin has followed University of Illinois’ lead with a similar two-week lockdown that was initiated earlier this week.)
The data in this visualization demonstrates that after a major spike in positive cases, the use of robust testing, contact tracing, required preventive measures (masks, distancing, and handwashing), and “lockdown” as mandated by the University of Illinois administration on helped Illinois students successfully reduce the spread.
Nebraska continues to have a small testing program (~200 tests /day, over the recent 7-days) and leads the Big Ten in Test Positivity:
This is a concerning new trend considering that Nebraska appears to be a part of the contingent pushing for Big Ten athletics to reconsider opening the football season. According to ESPN, Nebraska leaked information about an announcement that came late yesterday of Big Ten football beginning on Oct 23 (Big Ten Network).
Big Ten administration, faculty, staff, and students should carefully review the testing, contact tracing, and prevention measures currently in place at each conference school before jumping back into in-person seasons. These numbers raise more concerns regarding the extent to which conferences and individual athletics programs can reasonably protect their athletes. Nebraska claimed on September 12th to have implemented new rapid testing but it remains unclear about the extent to which this will be implemented for the entire campus or only for athletes. It is concerning to see that the two schools in the conference with the highest number of test positivity and positive cases - Nebraska and Ohio State - appear to be the two pushing hardest for reopening the fall season.
Put differently, while the SEC Commissioner told players that positive cases were “a given,” the majority of the LSU Football has tested positive for COVD-19 prior to the planned start of the SEC football season on September 25th. However, none of these conversations, SEC or Big Ten, appear to account for the data that suggests 87% of those who recover from COVD-19 experience at least 1 persistent symptom (Carfi et al., 2020). Similarly, the data demonstrating the increased racial health inequalities during COVID-19 should concern athletes in sports with larger representation of BIPOC athletes including football and basketball (Alcendor 2020). Even if Black student athletes were not at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, their family members are. Black and Latinx populations already experience severe health inequalities and significantly higher risk for hypertension, diabetes, and chronic lung conditions such as asthma (Williams & Sternthal, 2010), all of which are associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms (Apicella 2020, Liu et al. 2020). Yet the continued pressure to return to play without clear demonstration of testing, tracing, and prevention measures demonstrates the conference, and the sport as a whole, is not prepared for -or perhaps simply does not care about - the consequences for these athletes or their family members as more teams will continue to see increased positive cases.