Covid-19 outbreaks on college and university campuses can lead to subsequent outbreaks in the surrounding community and other high-risk places, such as nursing homes and prisons, according to a new report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the study, published on Thursday, researchers in Wisconsin and at the CDC examined data on Covid-19 cases reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health between March and November. The researchers looked closely at a sharp rise in cases — increasing at a rate of 24% per week — from late August to mid-November.
The data showed that, in August, Covid-19 cases linked to outbreaks on college and university campuses increased sharply and then were followed by outbreaks in other high-risk settings.
The researchers found that, overall, three places accounted for the largest numbers of outbreak-associated Covid-19 cases in Wisconsin: long-term care facilities at 26.8%, colleges or universities at 15% and correctional facilities at 14.9%.
Another report from researchers in Indiana, also published by the CDC on Thursday, details how one university in Indiana responded to a Covid-19 outbreak on its campus.
The university implemented safety measures, including daily online health assessments for students, and requiring all students to complete PCR testing before arriving on campus. But then in mid-August, an outbreak occurred with 371 confirmed cases. Contact tracing identified several large, off-campus parties as being related to the outbreak, according to the report.
In response, the university switched to online classes for undergraduates. On-campus students had to stay on campus. Off-campus students were restricted from campus.
“This approach is consistent with recommendations for universities with outbreaks to avoid sending students home to avoid spreading infections into local and other communities,” the researchers wrote. The researchers found that case numbers then decreased, testing capacity increased, and classes resumed in September with an average rate of new cases comparable to the overall county numbers at the time.
For both studies, only data on reported cases and outbreaks were included — there could have been more Covid-19 cases that were either asymptomatic or simply went unreported.