In College Towns Covid-19 Cases Surge, But Symptoms and Deaths Have Not (Yet) Appeared
Communities around the nation are learning a new rule for the fall semester: when college students return to campus, Covid-19 cases surge.
The case increases in counties where students have returned to campus are highly concerning but not yet driving increased deaths or symptoms based on a review of press reports, public data, and Google Trends symptom searches.
Below in four charts from Covid Act Now, correlations exist between increases in new cases and infection rate and the dates when students return to the campuses of The Ohio State University, Penn State University, Cornell University and Texas A&M University.
Chart 1: Penn State University is in Centre County, PA. Students began arriving back on campus on August 17th, a week before new cases surged.
Chart 2: Cornell University and Ithaca College are in Tompkins County, NY. Cornell residence halls re-opened on August 23rd, when infection rate spiked.
Chart 3: Texas A&M University is in Brazos County, TX and started classes on August 19th. You guessed it: that’s when infection rate surged.
Chart 4: The Ohio State University is in Franklin County, OH and started Fall classes in late August. Infection rate is trending up.
Looking at Google Trends in the media markets covering the same four campuses, searches haven’t increased — at least not yet — for common Covid-19 symptoms, “fever” and “cough.” Google searches for these terms did surge along with Covid cases earlier in 2020.
This suggests that in the early going these campus cases may be asymptomatic or at least less symptomatic than with the public at large. The immediate concerns seem to be the communities around students, both their families at home and the towns around campuses.
However, counter to the early conventional wisdom on Covid-19, the long term impact on younger people is also a major concern according to public health professionals and the medical community. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that the long term impacts on young people are “really troublesome.”
Similarly, deaths have not surged yet. In a recent review of public health data, the New York Times reported:
In … 203 counties in the country where students comprise at least 10 percent of the population, about half experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic since Aug. 1. In about half of those, figures showed the number of new infections is peaking right now.
Despite the surge in cases, there has been no uptick in deaths in college communities, data shows. This suggests that most of the infections are stemming from campuses, since young people who contract the virus are far less likely to die than older people. However, leaders fear that young people who are infected will contribute to a spread of the virus throughout the community.