Since the start of August, the University of South Carolina has reported more than 2,300 student Covid-19 cases. And it is not alone. There are more than 130,000 estimated coronavirus cases on more than 1,300 college campuses across the US, as of late September.
“Universities and colleges are not islands unto themselves, and they exist in their communities,” says Crystal Watson a public health risk expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. She says that infections among students are “essentially feeding cases in the community.” Indeed, many towns with the highest rates of Covid-19 as the fall semester got underway were those that house large universities.
The University of Illinois created an ambitious campus testing program, requiring every on-campus student to get tested at least twice a week with the school’s rapid saliva test. (The school has conducted more than 466,000 Covid-19 tests since early July.)
However, just several days into the semester, it detected 320 new cases in a single day, bringing its campus-wide test positivity to almost 3 percent (because of universal regular testing, this was close to the true campus infection level). The next week, administrators put the campus on lockdown for two weeks.
The lockdown drastically slowed case spread; the test positivity rate has stayed below 1 percent since early September (and is currently at approximately 0.2 percent). And the university continues to conduct more than 10,000 tests on a typical day to monitor for new outbreaks.