Post #796: When Radford University makes the news later today …

Posted on September 1, 2020

Source:  The Flat Hat.

… please don’t freak out, if you’re the parent of a Virginia college student.  Your kid is probably worried enough for the both of you.

Radford University is scheduled to update their COVID-19 dashboard data today.  When they do, that’s almost certainly going to make the news.  Based on the data reported daily by the state, Radford is going to show about 250 new cases for the week ending 8/30.   Which, for a student population of about 8000, is a rate of about 450 / 100K/ day.  Which compares to about 9/ 100K/ day as the overall Virginia community-resident rate for that age group.

They are more than aware that they have a problem (Post #788).  They’ve announced a handful of actions to try to limit the spread.  These include shutting down a fraternity and suspending eight students, and banning gatherings of more than 10 students.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you see that make the news.

First, nobody has been hospitalized.  That, according to the 9/1/2020 counts from the Commonwealth.  Total COVID-19 hospitalizations for Radford City residents have stood at 3 for several weeks now.  They’ve had 250 newly diagnosed cases, but nobody has required hospitalization.

Second, bear in mind the long lag between getting infected and having that reported.  Essentially all of what you will see in today’s count is students who got infected before Radford had done anything to stop the spread. 

It plausibly takes 10 (-ish) days between infection and reporting.  That’s a median of five days from exposure to symptoms, and then however long it takes for the infected individuals to seek medical help, get tested, and have those test reports returned and counted.  Infections reported on the last day of the reporting period (8/30/2020) plausibly occurred circa 8/20/2020.  That’s before the decision to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer (reported on 8/25), and the suspension of a fraternity and eight students (reported on 8/28).

Radford University is clearly in the position of playing catch-up.  The jury is still out on whether the actions taken so far were enough.  Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.  But you can’t tell yet, from the data, due to the lags between infection and symptoms, and symptoms and reporting.  It’ll be another week or so before those cases occurring after the changes in policy begin to be counted.

Third, this doesn’t mean that every university in Virginia is doomed to the same fate. So far, Radford is Radford.  When I look at William and Mary, they show zero positives out of 1400+ tests administered in the last week.  In fact, assuming I’m reading that right, they show zero on-campus positives out of a total of 5700 tests.  (But they tested everyone prior to return, and screened out 15 positives in that pre-move-in screening.  Which, in hindsight, is starting to look like a pretty smart move on their part.)

Source:  William and Mary covid-19 dashboard.

N.B.:  Their counts of positives went down from the last time I checked.  That’s because they re-test positives, in case they were false positives.  Presumably the four positives counted earlier turned out to be false positives.  I have yet to see good data on the false-positive rate for these genetic-material (“PCR”) tests, but the presence of false positives and negatives is why the Commonwealth does not recommend testing all students, and only recommends testing symptomatic students or those known to have been exposed. 

This is a period of high anxiety for college students. A recent poll of William and Mary students found that, unsurprisingly, their top worry about college right now is getting sick.  (Graph at the top of the page).

To which my heartfelt response is, I’m damned glad to hear that.  A little fear can be a healthy thing, and will keep people on their toes.  The last thing I’d want is a student body that isn’t worried about getting sick from COVID-19.

Even as much as I am a pessimist, I refuse to be so about the chances for a reasonable college semester for my daughter.  I’m supplying her with the best masks and mask-lining materials that I can (Filtrete ™, as those of you who read this blog know).  I’m wishing her well.  I’m focusing on the statistics for persons in her age group.  And, in general, I’m just trying to be as rational as I can about it.  Hope you can do the same, if you’re in this situation.