Study links in-class college learning to over 3,000 new COVID-19 cases per day

DENVER (KDVR) – Sept. 22 marks a milestone for the country’s fight with the coronavirus pandemic. We have exceeded 200,000 deaths from those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

A new study indicates that number will climb as colleges and universities switch to in-person classes.

The University of Colorado Boulder has temporarily switched back to online-only learning after a large COVID-19 case spike following the start of the semester. Boulder County has tested 3,753 positive COVID-19 cases; 825 of those cases come from CU Boulder.

Similar spikes in school-borne county coronavirus cases are the national trend, according to a new report set to be released Tuesday on medical study aggregator MedRxiv. A team of medical researchers, education specialists, and economists have linked college and university reopenings with a hefty increase in national COVID-19 case growth.

The study, emailed to FOX31 before its publication at MedRxiv, analyzed COVID-19 case data, enrollment data, and movement data derived from anonymous cellphone tracking between July 15 and Sept. 13.

Only one-fifth of U.S. counties, 779 total, contain a college campus.

Those counties that have colleges and universities with in-person learning have experienced significant upticks in COVID-19 cases. Nationally, this produces over 3,000 new cases per day.

Dr. Chris Marsicano, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Higher Education at Davidson College and one of the study’s authors, said the new daily case increase overshoots the combined daily cases of Australia, Canada, Italy, Kenya, New Zealand, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan.

Online classes, the report says, do not have any increase infection rates. The study did find a link between new cases and the amount of exposure a college county receives from students’ home states.

The researchers take pains to clarify their study does not necessarily mean a causative link, but that university officials should pay close attention as they develop their pandemic plans.

“The effect of reopening college campuses on COVID-19 cases is unknown,” reads the report. “We demonstrate that reopening college campuses is associated with increases in movement on those campuses and an increase in COVID-19 incidence in the county. The increase in COVID-19 cases is larger for counties that contain a campus that reopened for in-person instruction. College administrators and others should continue the potential impact of reopening on COVID-19 cases as they make plans for the Spring semester.”

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