WACO, TX — The greater Waco population will grow exponentially next month when Baylor University students begin flooding into town.
So how will the university protect the city, its students and faculty in the age of coronavirus? The plan seems as novel as the coronavirus itself.
It borrows a key component of political polls to make it work.
Sai Sagireddy's first test at Baylor University had nothing to do with math, science or English. Like all students will, he had to pass a test clearing him of the coronavirus.
The university is mailing mandatory COVID-19 tests to all students, faculty and staff. A negative result is needed to return to campus.
"With the COVID-19 testing, firstly, I think it is an amazing move. I'm really happy that they're doing that," said the incoming freshman.
Once Baylor has its coronavirus-free student body in place, it'll follow up with random testing of different groups, in stark contrast to Texas A&M which plans to test every student every month.
"What the surveillance testing will do is we'll be able to sample different populations across the campus to see if there's a prevalence of COVID-19," explained Jason Cook, Vice President of Baylor University.
It's the same kind of statistical model that makes political polls work.
"Different sample sizes at different points in time,. I can understand how that would work from like an epidemiological, like prevalence, stance" said infectious disease doctor Karen Blanton Brust, who oversees infection control at Baylor, Scott & White's massive state-of-the-art hospital in Temple.
She calls any testing only a snapshot in time and adds, any college's plan, like any table, only works as good as the legs that support it.
"Any strategy has to be a multi-faceted strategy," said Dr. Brust.
Baylor has that covered, too. Smaller classes, more distance, new cleanliness guidelines in class and residence halls, and more health education add more layers of protection.
"We will provide a care-kit to students as they come back to campus, which will include a face mask. It will include a thermometer. It will include hand sanitizer, a water bottle, also instructions on what kind of symptoms you need to look out for," said Cook.
Sagireddy, who hopes to become a doctor, has only one concern.
"Even though we're testing students, we're not testing the parents," Sagireddy observed.
True, but experts say a bigger emphasis on distancing, masking and sanitation, should make a difference.
"There really is no substitute for the basics," said Dr. Brust.
Something educators have said for years.
So, on paper, the Baylor plan seems as solid as the foundation on which Baylor was built. It’s only weakness? The same as any other plan. It only works best when people follow its guidelines to the letter.