University Reopenings Tied to Some COVID-19 Spikes

By Reuters Staff

December 30, 2020

(Reuters) - University communities outside of heavily populated areas may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission from student influxes, new research suggests.

Researchers analyzed the impact of reopening U.S. universities with at least 15,000 students in the fall 2020 semester in 80 counties with at least 1 million residents, 49 counties with 250,000 to 999,999 residents, and 44 counties with up to 249,999 residents.

Reopenings were linked with "dramatic" COVID-19 spikes in counties with fewer than 250,000 residents, whereas larger counties "had a flat infection growth rate," according to Mike Penuliar of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

Infection rates in the counties that experienced spikes never returned to pre-reopening levels, his team reported on medRxiv ahead of peer review.

"Spikes in rural locations can be dire," Penuliar said, noting fewer hospital resources, intensive care unit beds and expert medical personnel in those areas.

Coauthor Billy Philips, also of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, added that much of the fall surges in this study can be attributed to a vulnerable pool of people in the general population being infected by college students who are more likely to have mild or asymptomatic disease and unwittingly spread the virus.

SOURCE: medRxiv, online November 29, 2020.