It’s understandable why colleges and universities would want to treat COVID-19 like it’s over, or at least not something to obsess over. After two-and-half years of disruptions and various levels of precautions, there’s a natural desire to return to business as usual on campus.
That was largely the plan heading into this semester, according to headlines such as this one in the Wall Street Journal in August: “Colleges scale back COVID precautions for fall, saying pandemic phase over.”
As reported in that article, many colleges have begun eliminating mask requirements and mandatory testing, and some have dropped vaccine mandates. Other past precautions that are largely no longer in effect include requiring students who contract the virus to isolate in designated locations and offering online or hybrid classes, even for students who are ill.
Not surprisingly, given these relaxed protocols, case numbers spiked at the start of the semester on many campuses.
“College campus re-openings in the U.S. led to local increases in COVID-19 cases of more than a third,” Bloomberg reported on Aug. 29, citing a study published in the online scientific journal PLOS One.
Even if strict COVID guidelines were still in place, the number of cases on campuses would have likely risen at the start of the school year. Bringing thousands of students together after a summer apart is naturally going to result in an uptick in cases.
The start of a new semester is one of several times during the school year when the risk of contracting COVID is highest among college students. Other upticks tend to occur during fraternity and sorority pledge weeks, around Halloween, and after students return from Thanksgiving break.
Back in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, the CDC issued a report on fraternity and sorority activities at an Arkansas university and concluded that COVID cases increased rapidly during rush week events. The report indicated that “91% of gatherings were associated with fraternity or sorority activities.”
Granted, there were no vaccines at that point, but that doesn’t alter the obvious conclusion: more parties and social events equals more risk of catching and spreading COVID.
That also explains the rise in cases around Halloween, typically a popular time for parties on college campuses.
The reason for the spike after Thanksgiving break is equally obvious—students spend the holiday week in close contact with friends and family, then bring whatever germs they were exposed to back to campus with them.
True, Thanksgiving is still nearly two months away, but it’s incredibly naïve to think we won’t still be dealing with COVID by then. Rising case numbers in Europe and the presence of even more immunity-resistant strains of the virus have health experts concerned about the immediate future and unsure what to expect.
“(The new strains) are very different from any of the ones we have seen so far with this virus in terms of how they can actually get around the immune protection you might have either from having been previously infected or from having the vaccine, and we don’t know what that means,” University of Minnesota infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Osterholm told Minneapolis radio station 830 WCCO last week.
Here at PubSEG, we don’t know what to expect from the virus, either. But we do know that whatever challenges lie ahead, our team of disease case investigators and contact tracers can help you handle them.
Our groundbreaking new PubSEG Portal is a fully customizable, HIPAA-compliant software platform that can be used for contact tracing, vaccine and booster verification, symptom monitoring, secure messaging, daily health screenings and surveys, case reporting, and any of your other disease case management needs.
Whether you partner with PubSEG or purchase the software to use as part of your own disease management strategy, the portal is an extremely effective tool for keeping your students and faculty healthy and reducing the risk of outbreaks.
Even if your caseload is manageable now, we know from experience that there is the potential for chaotic times ahead, and the new variants only add to the uncertainty.
If you’d like to learn more about ways we can help in the event cases rise in the future, give us a call at 856-240-8117 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. No matter what time of the year, we’re always happy to be your partner in the fight against COVID.