Feb. 17 Weekly Interview With USU President Noelle Cockett

Feb 18, 2021

This is Utah Public Radio, I'm Kerry Bringhurst. Utah State University is providing access to a parking lot near Aggie Village for the Utah Department of Health to provide free testing for COVID to families of USU students and employees who are not part of the university system. 

Joining me is USU President Noelle Cockett. What can you tell us about this new partnership with the Utah Department of Health?

NC: One of the reasons that we wanted to target Aggie Village is because of our wastewater treatment. It is showing a little bit of a spike there at Aggie Village. We're hoping, again, to be able to help people know who is positive and then they can, you know, adjust what they're doing accordingly.

KB: What are we looking at as far as numbers on the campus? I believe last Thursday, 118 reported cases? How are you feeling about those latest numbers?

NC: Really quite good. It's the lowest we've been since the beginning of fall semester. Just again, very pleased with how people are adhering to the precautions. At one point, there was a question, “could this be, you know, due to people being vaccinated?” But it's not. It's not related to that. There's just not enough people yet vaccinated. This is truly because people are taking the precautions. 

We had a discussion just the other day that different sites are reporting different measurements. And some sites, including USU, do the number of tests that are positive over the number of tests completed. Other sites are doing the number of people who are positive, over the total of people that are tested. Let's say we have a football team of 100 players. They are actually tested three times a week. So, over a two week period, they actually have 600 tests completed. And let's say one player tested positive in the second week. So that would be, on a test result, it would be one positive out of 600 tests. If you were doing people, it would be one positive person, over 100 people. 

Now people are asking to be tested at 10 days. And sometimes they still show the presence of the COVID RNA, even though they may not have the symptoms. We actually noticed this last week. We were having a little bit higher positivity rate based on tests, but when we looked at people, we weren't seeing any increase in the number of people from previous weeks. You see what I'm saying? 

KB: I do. I wouldn't have even thought to look at that perspective. You know, and when those people are coming back, say after the 10 days, they're testing positive again. Are they still contagious? Do we know?

NC: Well, that's the interesting thing about the PCR test. It's measuring RNA. It's not measuring active COVID virus. I'd like to believe that as their immune system is responding to the virus, it's actually killing the virus, and that it's just residual RNA that couldn't reinfect someone. But we don't know that based on our test. And so we just say, “sorry, you're still showing positive.” I guess we're leaning to the more cautious side.

KB: President Cockett there's so much more we could discuss, including research that's happening at Utah State University and what some of the universities virologists are saying about the vaccines, but we're out of time today. Hopefully we can catch up on things next week. Thanks again, President Cockett.