With Case Rates of COVID-19 Remaining Low, How Does SUU Compare to Other Utah Universities?

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Another 12 members of Southern Utah University’s campus community have tested positive for COVID-19 according to an update to the COVID-19 Case Count page posted Thursday.

Each of those cases were recorded on campus from March 17-24, and Thursday’s total is the third-lowest posted in a single week during the Spring 2021 Semester.

Cases have steadily declined at SUU since the 85-case spike reported from Jan. 7-13, when students returned to Cedar City after the holiday break. The university reported around 20 cases per week in February before the numbers bottomed out last week when just five new cases were reported on campus from March 11-17.

While Thursday’s total represents a slight uptick at SUU, it stands far below other institutions in the state of Utah, though comparing numbers between universities is a fraught process.

Each university in the state is keeping track of the spread of COVID-19 in their own way. SUU defines the separation between on-campus and off-campus cases through in-person attendance for faculty, students and staff, but at the University of Utah and at Utah State University, cases are separated between students who live in on-campus housing versus those who live in the surrounding areas.

At Utah State, the COVID-19 dashboard reflects new cases at all three of its campuses with on campus housing available (Logan, Price and Blanding) as well as cases at the other six campuses across the state (Moab, Brigham City, Southwest, Salt Lake City, Tooele, Uintah Basin), further complicating the process of tracking the spread at a single institution.

Some schools, like Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, post testing results to their COVID-19 dashboards to indicate the number of tests administered and the positivity rates of those tests, whereas SUU and Dixie State University simply post the amount of cases self-reported per week without any report on testing.

UVU includes cases that have been found through testing, self-reported cases and other cases found through the local health department all in one graph on their dashboard. SUU is only posting self-reported cases to its dashboard, so if someone tests positive and doesn’t fill out the self-reporting form, they may not be included in the weekly report.

A few universities report daily updates and post rolling seven-day averages while others simply post the raw number of new cases week by week. Some provide a distinction between the number of cases between students, faculty and staff, while others report them all as a lump sum. Each of these campus communities vary widely in terms of population.

With all of that in mind, here’s a look at how SUU stacks up compared to the other five largest  institutions in the state.

Since the beginning of the new year, SUU has reported 380 cases among the campus community. That figure is the second-lowest of the six biggest schools in Utah, ahead of only Dixie State, which has reported 156 cases so far in 2021. The Spectrum reported that SUU enrolled 12,582 for this academic year, but it’s unclear how many faculty and staff are currently employed on campus.

There’s a pretty significant gap between the schools in southern Utah and those along the Wasatch Front. UVU has reported the next lowest number of new cases with 612.

The U of U is next, reporting just 767 cases this semester despite hosting the largest campus community in the state with 62,000 people, according to the U.’s COVID-19 Central page.  Approximately 75% of employees at the U are still working remotely to help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.

Utah State, across eight different campuses, has reported 777 so far this semester with 126 of those cases occurring in on-campus housing. 

That is the second highest total in Utah, and while USU does not list the size of its campus community on its dashboard, its Fast Facts page reports a headcount of 30,456 students and faculty as of Fall 2020 — though that does not include the number of faculty and staff working outside of Logan.

So Utah State, whose campus community is estimated to be about half the size of the U.’s, has had 10 more cases than what has been reported by the U of U.

Perhaps the worst outbreak in the state has occurred at BYU, where 1,095 cases have been reported since Jan. 1. BYU’s dashboard estimates that the size of its campus community is 42,000, and the university is taking information from more sources than any other school in the state.

SUU’s campus community is much smaller than those of BYU, USU, UVU and U of U, and its relatively low number of COVID-19 cases matches up well with the other institutions in the state this semester. No other school has hosted a greater percentage of in-person classes than SUU according to President Scott L. Wyatt, and there’s been no evidence of transmission in class this school year.

It should be noted that case rates are falling across the state, and each of the universities in Utah has reported a steady decline in new cases of COVID-19. Gov. Spencer Cox’s announcement that any Utahn over the age of 16 can sign up to receive the vaccine as of March 24 will likely impact that decline as well.

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Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU News