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What is the risk of COVID-19 community transmission at US universities?

In a recently published study research place* Preprint server, researchers assessed the risk of community transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at US universities.

Study: Modeling the Risk of Transmission of COVID-19 in the Community Associated with US Universities.  Credit: Halfpoint/Shutterstock
Study: Modeling the Risk of Transmission of COVID-19 in the Community Associated with US Universities. Credit: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

As of August 2022, over 583 million confirmed cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection have been reported worldwide, including 6.4 million deaths. Studies have shown that elderly and immunocompromised individuals are most vulnerable to the severity of COVID-19 illness. These reports suggest that younger individuals who are less susceptible to the infection are primarily introducing SARS-CoV-2 in communities, particularly near universities and colleges.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers estimated the number of COVID-19 cases and death rates in US counties and compared them to counties that have and do not have colleges.

The team received laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases and mortality data between January 1, 2020 and March 30, 2021. By the end of the study period on March 30, 2021, 22,385,335 COVID-19 cases and 374,130 COVID-19-related deaths had been reported. Each case of infection and mortality in this data set contained a total of 32 items, including demographic data such as age, ethnicity, race, gender and place of residence.

In addition, university enrollment (UE) data was obtained from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The team also aggregated the total number of enrollments for each post-secondary institution during the fall semester between the 2018-2019 academic years. The aggregated data were then classified into four classes: (1) large with enrollments greater than 15,000, (2) medium with enrollments between 5000 and 15,000, (3) small with enrollments between zero and 5000, and (4) no enrollment. In addition, the population of the county was categorized into age groups of zero to nine, 10 to 19, 20 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69, 70 to 79, and over 80 years old.


The study results showed that between January 1, 2020 and March 30, 2021, an increasing number of people enrolled in the counties was associated with a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases, while mortality rates were not so noticeable decrease was observed. Compared to counties without universities, the study showed a 1% decrease in COVID-19 cases in counties with small university enrollments, with an 8% decrease in those with medium university enrollments and a 16% decrease in those with large university enrollments.

The team found similar patterns in mortality rates and standardized cases across age groups and across all types of enrollment. This was observed in the 20-59 year olds, who accounted for a majority of the cases, while the highest rate of cases occurred in the 20-29 year old age group. Although the case rate was lower in adults under the age of 50, adults over the age of 50 had the highest mortality rates, regardless of the county’s university enrollment type.

In particular, it has been found that mortality rates increase with age. On average, the risk of dying from COVID-19 was twice that of those aged 80 and over compared to those aged 70 to 79, 2.5 times that of those aged 60 to 69 and five times that of those aged 60 to 69 People between 50 and 50 years old 59 years old.

Across the three COVID-19 waves, the team observed a notable decrease in mortality and case rates with increasing numbers of university enrollments compared to counties with no university enrollments. The first and second waves in all counties showed case rates of less than 105 per 100,000 and less than 2.94 per 100,000. However, this increased in the third wave. Such rapid increases in mortality and case numbers were observed for all counties, but were significantly less severe as university enrollments increased.

Additionally, county-level descriptions such as having a government mask mandate, level of county-level enrollment, and self-reported face mask wearing accounted for 40% of counties with high enrollments. The contribution of medium-enrollment counties to the variation in the number of COVID-19 cases adjusted for population was significantly dependent on institutional factors, including institutional category and size category, and on-campus COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as: B. the test strategy and category of the teaching medium. Counties with low enrollment numbers have been highly dependent on COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

Overall, the study results showed that an increase in a county’s university enrollment compared to counties with no university enrollment was significantly associated with a lower rate of COVID-19 infections and related deaths.

*Important NOTE

Research Square publishes preliminary scientific reports that have not been peer-reviewed and therefore should not be relied upon as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or be treated as established information.

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