The study acknowledged some limits, including no assessment of longer-term implications for county incidence beyond 21 days. Still, the report says the findings call for more effective mitigation activities at colleges and universities with in-person instruction to minimize on-campus COVID-19 transmission and reduce county-level incidence.
The study concludes:
Efforts to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 transmission are critical for U.S. colleges and universities. Congregate living settings at colleges and universities were linked to transmissions. Testing students for COVID-19 when they return to campus and throughout the semester might be an effective strategy to rapidly identify and isolate new cases to interrupt and reduce further transmissions. Colleges and universities should work to achieve greater adherence to the recommended use of masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and COVID-19 surveillance among students, including those who are exposed, symptomatic, and asymptomatic.
Increasing testing capacity and engaging in other COVID-19 mitigation strategies might be especially important for colleges and universities in areas where transmission from students into the broader community could exacerbate existing disparities, including access to and utilization of health care, as well as the disproportionate morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 among populations with prevalent underlying conditions associated with more severe outcomes following infection. Some university counties might have one or more concerning factors, such as higher levels of older adult populations, high rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, or strained health care resources.
These counties might need to consider the implications of in-person instruction on spread of COVID-19 among a student population that might have interactions with persons at higher risk in the community. College and university administrators should work with local decision-makers and public health officials to strengthen community mitigation, in addition to continuing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 on college and university campuses.
- Leidner AJ, Barry V, Bowen VB, et al. Opening of Large Institutions of Higher Education and County-Level COVID-19 Incidence — United States, July 6–September 17, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:14–19. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7001a4