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Study: College Reopenings Increased Community COVID-19 Cases

August 30, 2022

A new peer-reviewed study published Monday found that when colleges that went online during the coronavirus pandemic reopened in the fall of 2020, COVID-19 case counts increased in the surrounding community as students returned to campus.

The paper, titled “College openings in the United States increase mobility and COVID-19 incidence,” analyzed data from a college reopenings database from the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, coronavirus case count data from the CDC and USA Facts, and cellular GPS data from SafeGraph to gauge the number of people on campus.

Looking at community-level effects, the paper found that cases rose when students returned. According to the paper, “reopening a college was associated with a statistically significant increase of 4.9 cases per 100,000.” The analysis, which looked at 786 counties across the U.S., indicates that reopening college campuses led to an additional 11,500 COVID-19 cases nationwide per day.

Martin Anderson, a health economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of five authors of the paper, explained in a Twitter thread that while cases increased with reopening, “hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths did not increase, on average.”

So, what does that mean for this fall with students set to return to colleges en masse?

“Now, unlike Fall of 2020, there are highly effective vaccines and vaccine mandates are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Anderson tweeted Monday, adding a caveat about the unvaccinated. “However, with only [two-thirds] of 18-24 year olds vaccinated and variants that are increasingly adept at evading immunity, our results indicate that we should expect increased incidence in ‘college counties’ over the next several weeks as students return to campus.”

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Josh Moody

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