Incidence of COVID-19 among members of the campus community at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are on the rise, according to preliminary public health data. 

The university recorded a total of 144 positive cases among students and employees for the week of Aug. 30, according to UC’s COVID-19 dashboard.

That is the highest level of weekly cases reported since February, data shows, though still less than half of the university’s peak in November. 

The university’s testing positivity rate for the week of Aug. 28 through Sept. 3 jumped to 4.92% from 2.8% the previous week. Out of the 650 screening tests conducted by the university, 32 came back positive, all of which were students. 

Over the same period, Hamilton County had a positivity rate of 10.96% and the positivity rate statewide was 12.74%. 

The university’s most recent data shows a total of 76 students in quarantine and isolation. Approximately 32% of those students are in quarantine or isolation on campus. 

Dr. Dustin Calhoun, chair of UC’s COVID-19 Response Team, said the university’s COVID-19 dashboard represents the mandatory screening tests conducted among unvaccinated residential students, which is the highest risk population on campus. 

“It's impractical to test everyone and randomize samplings are difficult and not necessarily ... your perfect canary in a coal mine,” he said. 

The university is currently testing 500 to 1,000 students per week and infection rates are at half to a third of rates for the surrounding community, Calhoun said. Although the university will likely shift its testing demographics with the roll out of the vaccine requirement, he added.

The university has implemented several changes to its pandemic policies and procedures for fall semester, including the adoption of a universal indoor mask mandate and COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

“... Things are not improving significantly,” Calhoun said of the state of the pandemic in the surrounding region. 

Each of Greater Cincinnati’s 14 counties are still designated as areas with high community transmission based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) levels, according to regional public health data

Hamilton County has a seven-day total of 343 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people.

Calhoun said the greater transmissibility of the delta variant has made some CDC guidance, such as three-foot social distancing and masking, “somewhat outdated and concerning for those who are following the science.”  

Hospitals in Southwest Ohio continue to experience a “moderate to severe strain on staffing.” The seven-day moving average for occupied medical-surgical beds in the region is 2,343. And the average for occupied ICU beds is 490, according to data released Wednesday. 

That same data shows there are 512 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Greater Cincinnati hospitals, with 148 patients in ICU and 143 patients on ventilators. 

Calhoun said the region has not experienced a massive increase in vaccinations despite the Pfizer vaccine receiving full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Just over half of Hamilton County’s population, approximately 52%, is completely vaccinated. 

But the fact that UC’s cases are rising despite administrators’ best intentions demonstrates the challenges posed by a more traditional campus environment. 

And while UC President Neville Pinto has lauded the return to a more traditional campus experience, more stringent policies may have to be put in place if case counts continue to rise. 

“I am committed to ensuring that we don't slide down a slippery slope of, ‘We're back in school, so no matter how bad things get, we're not going to change,” Calhoun said. “That is absolutely not going to be the case.”

Calhoun said the university is also not using arbitrary numbers as benchmarks to decide when to make changes to pandemic policies. UC bases those decisions on a more complex set of factors, he added. 

“But the first question, in my mind, every time I look at the numbers is, ‘Are we safe to continue doing what we're doing?’” Calhoun said.