College campuses are at risk of becoming Covid-19 super-spreaders, new study finds.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Computational methods in biomechanics and biomedical engineering, examined 30 campuses across the country with the highest number of reported cases.
The researchers observed that more than half of the establishments had peaks of more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people per week during the first two weeks of class.
By the end of the fall semester, at some colleges, one in five students was positive for Covid-19, with four campuses reporting more than 5,000 cases.
“The number of students who have been infected throughout the fall is more than double the national average since the start of the epidemic of 5.3%, with 17.3 million cases reported in a population of 328.2 million, ”said senior author Hannah Lu of Stanford’s Energy Resources Engineering Program.
“At the University of Notre-Dame, for example, all 12,607 students were tested before classes started and only nine had tested positive. Within two weeks of the start of the trimester, the seven-day incidence was 3083, with an R0 reproduction number of 3.29. “
Incidence levels of 1,000 cases per 100,000 people per week – compared to the first and second waves of the pandemic with peak incidences of 70 to 150 – mean colleges are at real risk of developing an extreme incidence of Covid-19 .
“Policymakers often use an incidence of 50 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people per week as the threshold for high-risk counties, states or countries. All 30 institutions in our study exceeded this value, ”added Lu.
But one limitation of this study is that the actual student population on campus was often unreported and had to be approximated by the total enrollment in the fall term.
“This probably underestimates the actual maximum incidence and the fraction of students on campus who have been affected by the virus,” the authors write in the article.
This most recent data builds on previous research which found that university reopens added an average of 3,000 Covid-19 cases per day to the country’s total between mid-July and mid-September.
Many experts point to off-campus events and cramped dormitories as the main cause of rampant Covid-19 epidemics in universities nationwide and around the world.
Adding further insult to injury, the computer model of this latest study also showed that in the majority of monitored campuses, outbreaks directly resulted in spikes in infection in their home counties.
“Our results confirm the widespread fear in early fall that colleges will become the new hotspots for Covid-19 transmission,” said lead author Ellen Kuhl.
“It is striking that these epidemics on local campuses quickly spread throughout the county and triggered a spike in new infections in neighboring communities in more than half of the cases.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that these initial college outbreaks are unrelated to national outbreak dynamics. Instead, they are independent local events driven by the reopening of the campus and the invitation of students to return to campus.
But despite the virus’ “super-spread” nature on college campuses, Kuhl points out that deaths from Covid-19 were not proportional.
“With around 90 deaths reported nationwide, mostly of university workers and not students, the campus-related death rate of 0.02% remains well below the average death rate from Covid-19,” a she declared.
And with the winter period starting this week in many places with Covid-19 more prevalent than ever before, it’s important to note that today’s study also found that careful management of outbreaks can reduce peaks. of Covid-19 in two weeks.
“The majority of colleges and universities have been able to quickly manage their epidemics and suppress campus-wide infections, while neighboring communities have been less successful in controlling the spread of the virus. Therefore, for most facilities, outbreak dynamics remained manageable throughout fall 2020 with narrow peaks of less than 300 cases per day, ”Lu said.
In fact, there were some colleges in the United States with almost no cases of coronavirus.
Although, as Sarah Fortune, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, explained in an interview with National Geographic: “A lot of these places have had the benefit of being relatively isolated.
And so, while most college campuses don’t have the luxury of being isolated, the study recommends measures like strict test-trace-isolation strategies, a flexible transition to online education and compliance with local regulations to ensure the safe reopening of the campus.
“We anticipate that the most important aspect when the campus reopens in the coming weeks will be the human factor. Unfortunately, the fall term has shown that the best of all strategies can become meaningless if people don’t follow the recommendations, ”Kuhl said.
So, for all the college students reading this: keep wearing a mask, wash your hands, and don’t go to this fraternity party. Please.