A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Managing an invisible enemy, UK crosses halfway point of an unprecedented semester


By Eli Capilouto and Robert DiPaola
University of Kentucky

We reached an important milestone recently at the University of Kentucky. With about 50 days left until Thanksgiving, we crossed the halfway point of this unprecedented semester.

We know we confront an invisible virus that attacks indiscriminately. What seems to be manageable today can escalate tomorrow, particularly when we let our guard down and do not adhere to the common-sense public health measures that protect us.

Eli Capilouto

We also know the widespread uncertainty makes it tempting to look at one statistic – the cumulative number of positive tests over several months – and draw conclusions that sow seeds of concern. Yet, we believe the decision we made months ago to return to campus was the right one.

It was the right decision for our students. It was the right decision for the economic health and future of Fayette County. The numbers tell a clear story:

· Because of the public health infrastructure we have built on our campus, UK has tested and detected more cases of the virus in our university community than any other institution in our local community. We are several times larger than the next employer. We test more than anyone. We contact trace more than anyone, and we report our numbers, more frequently and more transparently, than anyone. We are doing more to mitigate and manage.

· Today, we have fewer than 300 active cases from among the more than 25,000 students who are physically coming to campus. More than 1,700 students have recovered. Our seven-day average of cases has dropped in recent weeks and has been stable over the last month.

· Our active case count has declined over time. We also still have plenty of capacity in our isolation facilities, where students who test positive are living – with support from the university – until they recover.

UK has conducted more than 33,000 tests, starting with mandatory testing for every student returning to campus. We have offered free testing for faculty and staff and the community. But testing alone is not enough. To interrupt the spread of the virus, we all must work together, taking the precautions that we call the “Daily 4.0” – mask wearing, hand washing, physical distancing and daily screening.

Using the recommendations of our START* team of clinicians, researchers and public health professionals, we have expanded our initial efforts into targeted, ongoing testing. That includes retesting populations on our campus with more potential exposure to the disease, ongoing random testing and cutting-edge efforts like testing the wastewater from residence halls to serve as an early warning indicator of the disease’s presence.

UK has utilized mask wearing, hand washing, physical distancing and daily screening. (Photo by Mark Cornelison)

We also have begun partnering with the city to work with neighbors and students to ensure that healthy behavior guidelines are followed off campus, too.

Like other institutions throughout Lexington, we have parents among our colleagues who are overstretched and worried about how to balance work and life, responsibilities and childcare. We are actively working with both the city and Fayette County Public Schools on ways we can further collaborate to manage the virus and provide enhanced work-life support.

Our presence in the community and our commitment to remaining open and connected to the state has never been more important. We are a resource for research, discovery, education and service. We are an employer that contributes immeasurably to the life of Lexington. And we want to be, in all things we do, a partner for our community’s progress and health.

In coming back – in opening our doors to our students and all those we serve – we believe we have been.

Eli Capilouto is UK’s 12th president and a former public health dean. Robert DiPaola is dean of UK’s College of Medicine and project lead for its START team that makes recommendations on testing and other protocols. *START (Screening, Testing and Tracing, to Accelerate Restart and Transition).


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