*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MedicalXpress.
College campuses are at risk of becoming COVID-19 superspreaders for their entire county, according to a new vast study which shows the striking danger of the first two weeks of school in particular.
Looking at 30 campuses across the nation with the highest amount of reported cases, experts saw that over half of the institutions had spikes—at their peak—which were well above 1,000 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people per week within the first two weeks of class.
In some colleges, one in five students had been infected with the virus by the end of the fall term. Four institutions had over 5,000 cases.
In 17 of the campuses monitored, a new computer model developed by scientists at Stanford University shows outbreaks translated directly into peaks of infection within their home counties.
The team’s research—published in the peer-reviewed journal Computer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering—crucially shows, however, that tight outbreak management, for example, the immediate transition from in-person to all online learning can reduce the peaks within about two weeks.
Members of the research team used advanced modeling, which assesses the real-time epidemiology of the COVID-19 outbreak using an SEIR (susceptible, exposed, infectious, and recovered) model to map how the disease spread across the campuses.
“Our results confirm the widespread fear in early fall that colleges could become the new hot spots of COVID-19 transmission. But, at the same time, college administrators should be applauded for their rapid responses to successfully manage local outbreaks,” said Senior author, Ellen Kuhl.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that these initial college outbreaks are unrelated to the national outbreak dynamics. Instead, they are independent local events driven by campus reopening and inviting students back to campus. Our results confirm the widespread fear in early fall that colleges could become the new hot spots of COVID-19 transmission. But, at the same time, college administrators should be applauded for their rapid responses to successfully manage local outbreaks.”
Professor Kuhl concludes: “We anticipate that the most important aspect upon campus reopening within 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 do not follow the recommendations.”