Sudden spike in daily student COVID-19 cases highest since February peak

134 University of Miami students tested positive for COVID-19 from Dec. 13-14, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, the largest two-day total since the case count peaked at a reported 162 positive tests from Feb. 2-3, 2021.

“​The University did expect an increase in cases, since many more people traveled and gathered with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday this year,” said Erin Kobetz, vice provost for research and scholarship and the leader of the university’s COVID-19 testing, tracking and tracing efforts.

Kobetz echoed statements made by university President Julio Frenk in an email to the UM community Tuesday but declined to say whether the newly reported totals are higher than what university leadership expected.

The spike in student cases comes after nearly two months of rolling daily averages of one or under, according to the dashboard, and has coincided with the emergence of the virus’s Omicron variant.

Kobetz attributes some of the numbers to increased testing for students returning from Thanksgiving break, but warns that the increased spread of COVID-19 should serve as a reminder to the UM community.

“These increases in cases serve as a reminder that the pandemic is not behind us,” Kobetz said. “Omicron is increasingly prevalent in South Florida as well as elsewhere across the globe.”

While Kobetz and Frenk cite Thanksgiving travel as a primary cause of the increase in cases, the results on UM’s COVID-19 dashboard showed a latency period between the spike in cases and return of students. This could be partially a result of COVID-19’s incubation period, which sits at a median of 4-5 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate across all university testing was reported at 0.5% in the days before Nov. 29, when students returned from a weeklong break.

On Nov. 29, just five of the 620 tests administered to university students, staff and faculty returned positive, resulting in a positivity rate of 0.8%.

In the following week, 19 of the 2,433 tests administered to university affiliates came back positive, resulting in a seven-day rolling average of 0.8%.

On Dec. 14, that number had reportedly risen to 6.7%, with 250 of the 3,743 university students, faculty and staff tested for COVID-19 confirmed positive. The university did not comment on the percentage of positive test results in unvaccinated students.

With 90% of on-campus students and 85.1% of the total student body fully vaccinated, the university has continued promoting booster shots as the best way to combat another outbreak.

Saadin Dassum is one of the dozens of UM students recently infected with COVID-19 after a period of near-zero infection rates. The senior media scoring and production major received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in May but has yet to receive a booster.

Dassum says he received a positive COVID-19 test result on Monday after displaying symptoms over the weekend. Although he traveled to Atlanta during Thanksgiving break, Dassum returned to Miami on Saturday, Nov. 27, nearly three weeks before his positive test result.

“I don’t think I got infected in Atlanta,” Dassum said. “According to everything that I’ve read from the CDC, it seems like I got infected here when I got back.”

Dassum has been in quarantine in his dormitory at UM’s University Village, which he shares with two roommates. He says that because he has his own room and bathroom, university officials initially told him he could remain in his dorm room before reversing course Wednesday and relocating him to a hotel due to the dorm’s shared kitchen.

“Today I received a call that said I was being relocated since I share a kitchen with my suite-mates, even though I haven’t gone out of my room,” Dassum said. “It’s weird, but they just told me that the policy changed.”

One professor and member of UM’s Faculty Senate says that they last received a contact tracing notification on Dec. 3 over their university email. Since the last day of classes Wednesday, Dec. 8, however, they have received five emails from students claiming to have been infected with COVID-19.

“It may be because students are getting tested outside of UM and they’re not notifying UM, they’re just notifying their professors,” said the professor, an untenured longtime faculty member who requested anonymity for fear of disciplinary action. “Or maybe they’re faking the results to get out of doing their finals in person.”

While booster doses are not being offered to students like the initial round of vaccines, they are available at most pharmacies, including Walgreens and Publix and many county-operated sites. You can search for locations and appointment availability on the Miami-Dade County COVID-19 Vaccine Finder site: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/initiatives/coronavirus/vaccine/vaccine-locator.page.