Medicine student

Baylor College of Medicine student orientation turns into COVID cluster

Baylor College of Medicine did not intend its orientation for new students to become a case study in breakthrough infections.

In retrospect, the smiles photographed and the cheerful video on Baylor’s Facebook page look ominous. On Monday, July 26, around 200 people – mostly first year medical students wearing hot pink themed weekend t-shirts – gathered in a Baylor building and loaded plates from a small- buffet lunch. They were not socially distanced and in the photos the only visible masks are in people’s hands or dangling from their wrists.

But why would the case have been any different? It was Monday, July 26, and under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time, it was safe for groups of vaccinated people to assemble without a mask.

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Baylor demands that its students be vaccinated, and 97% of the 189 class members of 2025 were not just vaccinated but fully vaccinated – a statistic unlikely to be matched by many other groups in Texas. It was a young and healthy crowd. If it was safe for a large group to congregate inside without a mask, it should have been safe for this one.

As indicated, the first years were masked to take limousine buses for two hours north, until the retreat of the artesian lakes in the woods of Piney. But after they arrived, they worked without a mask, playing games to make you known. They ate their meals together inside the dining room and spent most of their time sitting next to each other outside in small groups. They slept in the cabins on the property.

The limos drove them back to Houston on Tuesday.

Notably, it was also the day the CDC changed its recommendation regarding who gets vaccinated and masking. An outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, documented by citizen scientists, had shown delta to be different from previous variants. It has been found that delta can be transmitted from a vaccinated person to a vaccinated person.

This announcement, of course, came too late for the first few years.

Over the next few days, some of the students started to feel sick.

By the end of the first week of August, 11 of the first graders – six percent of the class – had tested positive for COVID.

Follow-up to CDC guidelines

During the Provincetown outbreak, three-quarters of those infected were fully vaccinated. The good news was that their vaccinations clearly protected them – they were much less likely than unvaccinated people infected with the Delta to become so sick that they had to be hospitalized or die.

The bad news was that those vaccinated did not come out unscathed and asymptomatic: 79% of people with these breakthrough infections in Provincetown experienced symptoms – cough, fever, fatigue, muscle pain, loss of taste and smell.

Something similar seems to have been the case at Baylor. Shortly after orientation, students began reporting familiar flu symptoms to the administration at medical school. A freshman said he knew “a lot” of sick people, not just asymptomatic. (Anxious not to jeopardize a nascent medical career, the student requested to remain anonymous.)

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This student is alarmed that the school did not send a mass e-mail immediately after the first indication that the orientation students had been exposed: “There was radio silence for a few. days. “

But the administration of the medical school was not informed that anyone was sick until Saturday, July 31. That evening, two Baylor student affairs staff emailed first-graders and upper-class students who had attended the retreat: “There has been potential exposure to COVID,” they said. warned.

As sick and exposed students were quarantined, Baylor canceled the first week of in-person classes. Family and friends were banned from the August 13 White Coat Ceremony, where the early years take the oath and receive their doctor’s attire. Many of the students were angry, said the first year: they wanted their loved ones to be present.

“Baylor followed the guidelines of the CDC,” said Jennifer Christner, dean of Baylor College of Medicine. The cluster of cases – she doesn’t call it an epidemic – has been contained.

Perhaps the best of times

Perhaps, as one of the best medical schools in the country, Baylor could have been better prepared for a COVID cluster. Perhaps, even before the CDC’s announcement, Baylor could have somehow guessed that the Delta variant played by different rules and even vaccinated people had to wear masks when hanging out with other vaccinated people in inside. Perhaps it could have alerted the students more quickly.

But given what Texas educational institutions are facing, the Baylor College of Medicine cluster may be the best of times. Consider that while the Delta variant fills EDs and Texas ICUSs, Texas colleges and K-12 schools are starting in-person classes this month. Remember that a patchwork of mask rules apply, with some schools not requiring them. That students under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated, and that less than a third of adolescents are vaccinated, and well under half of middle school students.

If six percent of students were infected within two days, in a group that is 97 percent fully vaccinated and following medical advice, imagine what might happen elsewhere.

None of the Baylor students were hospitalized. None are dead. None, to our knowledge, have infected a fragile family member or unvaccinated friend. The school took action and the chain of infections stopped.

In the dark era of the Delta variant, that counts as a happy ending.

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