Tyler Junior College has changed the way COVID cases are being reported this fall. 

In the fall 2021 semester, TJC made numerous policy changes in response to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 18 and Aug. 25outlawing mask and vaccination mandates, respectively. In response, TJC removed the mask mandate and increased the size of students in instructional spaces. Contact tracing, which was previously done to mitigate community spread in the classrooms, is also not being implemented this semester.

For the sixth week of classes this fall (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), a total of 47 students and staff members were reported to have tested positive for COVID, according to data on TJC’s Coronavirus Information Page

To compare, the total number of positive cases reported through the duration of the spring 2021 semester also reached 47 students and staff, according to 28 Clery reports released by Campus Police. These reports were from Jan. 5 to April 21, which is when the last report was released. No reports were listed in May. 

The reports from previous semesters were released in compliance with the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security policy. According to The Clery Center, this act, “requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, support victims of violence, and publicly outline the policies and procedures they have to put into place to improve campus safety.” Serious illnesses can be an immediate threat to the health or safety of campus communities, which includes COVID-19. 

Rebecca Sanders, director of public relations and media affairs said, “When the pandemic began, the Department of Education provided guidance to colleges and universities on meeting the Clery Act’s notification requirements related to COVID-19,” 

Cases for the following five weeks in 2021 were more than triple the amount in 2020.
Graphic by Chris Swann

She said the way these reports are conveyed is up to interpretation, as long as it is “multi-modal,” or uses a variety of modes to express information to be accessible to all members of a community.

In 2020, TJC opted for a single banner on the top of the website’s homepage, directing visitors to information regarding COVID-19, what precautions the campus is taking, and directing to other sources such as different health care providers, state and local health authorities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clery reports were also released when new cases were found from within campus.

“The daily Clery notifications regarding positive cases are not currently posted on the TJC website,” Sanders said. “As we resumed normal operations on June 1, 2021, we stopped reporting daily positive cases and kept the banner at the top of the page.”

Now the banner directs to a dedicated COVID-19 information center page. Here, students are lead to other sources for information and are provided with instructions to those who are sick or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Weekly statistics with the number of active staff and faculty cases, along with total numbers of each have been added to provide a visual and easier method of keeping track of cases across campus. Underneath, a new link to an application for financial assistance to struggling students via the TJC NOW Fund and the CARES Act is also included.

As of Oct. 1, 47% of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated and 55% have received one dose of the COVID vaccines in Smith County. Statewide, 61% of individuals who are 12 years old or older are fully vaccinated, according to NET Health.