Using data to understand COVID-19

Monitoring COVID-19 is one way to help protect the health and safety of the NMSU community. Three important tools for this monitoring are screening for COVID-19 symptoms, testing for COVID-19 infection, and tracing people who have been exposed to COVID-19. People infected with COVID-19 are contagious before they show symptoms, and some people who have been infected never have symptoms. Because we cannot be certain who is infected, we all need to rely on behavioral interventions like social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing a mask. Even though the newly identified strains of this virus are more infectious, these behaviors remain effective against transmission.

Each member of the NMSU community needs to screen their health for COVID-19 symptoms. We have developed an online self-check and self-reporting portal, available on the homepage and the now.nmsu.edu site, to help with screening and contact tracing. Students, employees and visitors should perform a daily self-check and, as relevant, register locations visited on campus to help Aggie Health and Wellness contact tracers identify additional potential contacts.

People with who feel ill or have symptoms of COVID-19 must remain at home or in their residence halls. They need to contact a health care provider, Aggie Health and Wellness at 575-646-7375, or the relevant branch campus contact.

Surveillance testing 
Updated: 1/21/2021

Another important aspect of dealing with COVID-19 is to understand its spread on our campus. We have implemented an extensive plan for this by leveraging faculty expertise, partnerships with private companies and funding from New Mexico Department of Health. This plan looks at multiple aspects of COVID-19 and includes:

  • On-campus testing for most out-of-state resident students within days of arrival
  • Daily asymptomatic or symptomatic testing for students and employees available at Aggie Health and Wellness Center
  • Modeling COVID-19 prevalence and spread based on data that includes students who live on campus in student housing, students who live off campus in New Mexico, students who commute from out of state, employees who live in New Mexico, and employees who commute from out of state. Each week during the study period, a random sample of approximately 250 receive invitations to participate.
  • In the early stages of measuring the prevalence of the SARS-COV-2 virus at specific locations through wastewater sampling
  • A partnership with Electronic Caregiver© related to self-reported COVID-19 symptoms
  • Testing three times per week for student-athletes involved in practice or competition
  • Testing 25% of non-competing student-athletes each week

In the Las Cruces area, COVID-19 tests are also available at the Department of Health Office and other sites

Additionally, free home COVID-19 test kits are now available to all New Mexico residents, regardless of exposure risk, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, and whether they have come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive individual or not. Any New Mexican with access to online video-conferencing through Zoom can receive a test kit at home, self-administer the test with a virtual testing supervisor through a secure Zoom, and mail the sample back for laboratory processing. To order a test, visit learn.vaulthealth.com/nm.

 


Monitoring data

NMSU leadership closely monitors daily reports from the New Mexico Department of Health to understand, down to the level of ZIP codes, the trends of COVID-19 in the community. An online COVID-19 data dashboard provides a snapshot of that data daily, Monday through Friday, and for each week. These reports help us understand trends in data like new infections, recoveries, and hospital capacity.

A careful review of the data from the fall semester suggests that our campus was successful in preventing widespread outbreaks of COVID-19. As COVID-19 cases in Doña Ana County rose, we saw a corresponding, but much lower, rise of cases on campus in employees and students. Setting and communicating the expectation that everyone on campus would use COVID-safe practices at all times paid off:

  • Our team of dedicated contact tracers tracked the majority of cases to contact with an infected family member, friend, or off-campus co-worker.
  • We found no evidence of transmission of the virus in our learning spaces; every case of on-campus transmission was investigated, and the underlying cause was addressed.
  • Housing and Residence Life acted quickly to separate campus residents testing positive after exposure to their roommates and suitemates. As a result, we documented only one case in which a roommate of a student who tested positive also contracted COVID-19.

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Responding to a surge in COVID-19 cases

Under certain conditions, the NMSU administration is committed to severely limiting campus activities to reduce viral spread. Possible triggers include: 

  • Levels of COVID-19 that are statistically higher on campus than in the age-matched population in Doña Ana and El Paso counties.
  • Local hospitals approach capacity for ICU beds. In this case, we could not assure that sick students or staff could get the care they need.
  • A cluster of positive cases that can be traced to on-campus transmission associated with a particular campus setting, such as within a classroom or building (or multiple buildings); within residence halls; within athletics, band, or other units or groups of students; and within on-campus employees. 

In addition to daily monitoring, NMSU leadership meets weekly, or more frequently if needed, with campus experts to assess trends in critical metrics. These meetings could trigger actions and data collection to better assess the situation. Examples of these actions include:

  • Increased testing for COVID-19 for specific groups of students, faculty and staff, with contact tracing for positive cases;
  • Investigating outbreaks to understand contributory factors such as social events or decreased vigilance regarding social distancing or face coverings, and taking corrective action as needed;
  • Closing campus buildings for disinfectionin concert with NMSU Facilities and Services;
  • Reviewing related rules and policies;
  • Closing buildings to instruction and restricting campus activities; and
  • Communicating with the campus community. 

The university – or specific departments or classes – could pivot to fully online course delivery and stay-at-home restrictions, even if a statewide school and business closure has not been ordered. Student services such as residential life and dining would continue as essential services.


Maintaining flexibility

Pedagogies such as hybrid teaching allow faculty to switch from face-to-face to online environment quickly. NMSU’s Alternative Work Arrangements policy facilitates telework and is supported by a decision tree for managers. Every department must review and revise continuity of operations plans to include plans for a return to telework.

 


New Mexico Department of Health’s ‘Red to Green’ System
Updated: 02/11/2021

In December, the state of New Mexico launched a new “Red to Green” system to set reopening thresholds and guidelines on a county-by-county basis. The county-by-county framework will permit counties – and the businesses and nonprofit entities within their borders – to operate under less restrictive public health measures when health metrics demonstrating the extent of the virus’ spread and test positivity within those counties are met.

In order to prevent and mitigate the effects of the spread of the virus, and to ameliorate the strain placed upon the state’s health care system and personnel, counties where the virus is more prevalent will operate under more restrictive public health measures. Likewise, counties where the virus has been or is being suppressed will operate under less restrictive measures.

Counties will operate under one of three levels: Red, signifying very high risk; Yellow, signifying high risk; and Green, signifying medium risk.

The New Mexico Department of Health maintains an official map displaying each county’s current level on its COVID-19 webpage, cv.nmhealth.org. To capture an average over a period of time that accurately conveys the spread of the virus in each county, the agency updates this map every other Wednesday.

NMSU continually reassesses and adjusts its operational plans based on guidance from both the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Higher Education Department. Our campuses will follow this guidance, and may implement more-restrictive measures if our data indicates it is in the best interest of our students and employees.

Relevant requirements for NMSU at each level are listed here, and a full list of requirements can be found at cv.nmhealth.org/redtogreen.

Green Level

Counties at the Green Level have both a new COVID-19 case incidence rate of no greater than 8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the most recent two-week period, and an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results over the most recent 14-day period less than or equal to 5%.

  • Essential businesses (non-retail): No capacity restrictions but operations must be limited to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions
  • Essential retail spaces: 50% of maximum capacity
  • Food and drink establishments: 50% of maximum capacity for indoor dining; 75% of maximum capacity for outdoor dining
  • Close-contact businesses: 50% of maximum capacity
  • Outdoor recreational facilities: 50% of maximum capacity (unless required to have less capacity under the state’s COVID-Safe Practices)
  • Close-contact recreational facilities: Remain closed
  • Mass gatherings limit: 20 persons, 120 vehicles

Yellow Level

Counties at the Yellow Level have either a new COVID-19 case incidence rate of no greater than 8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the most recent two-week period, or an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results over the most recent 14-day period less than or equal to 5%. 

  • Essential businesses (non-retail): No capacity restrictions but operations must be limited to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions
  • Essential retail spaces: 33% of maximum capacity
  • Food and drink establishments: 25% of maximum capacity for indoor dining; 75% of maximum capacity for outdoors dining; any establishment serving alcohol must close by 10 p.m. each night
  • Close-contact businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 20 customers at one time, whichever is smaller
  • Outdoor recreational facilities: 25% of maximum capacity (unless required to have less capacity under the state’s COVID-Safe Practices)
  • Close-contact recreational facilities: Remain closed
  • Mass gatherings limit: 10 persons; 80 vehicles

Red Level

Counties at the Red Level are those with a new COVID-19 case incident rate of greater than 8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the most recent two-week period and an average percent of positive COVID-19 test results over the most recent 14-day period greater than 5%.

  • Essential businesses (non-retail): No capacity restrictions but must limit operations to only those absolutely necessary to carry out essential functions
  • Essential retail spaces: 25% of maximum capacity
  • Food and drink establishments: No indoor dining permitted; 25% of maximum capacity for outdoor dining; any establishment serving alcohol must close by 9 p.m. each night
  • Close-contact businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 10 customers at one time, whichever is smaller
  • Outdoor recreational facilities: 25% of maximum capacity (unless required to have less capacity under the state’s COVID-Safe Practices)
  • Close-contact recreational facilities: Remain closed
  • Mass gatherings limit: 5 persons, 40 vehicles