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September 8, 2020

College students are sparking new coronavirus outbreaks. (But sending students home isn't the answer, officials warn.)

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    The reopenings of college and university campuses across the United States have sparked localized surges in new coronavirus cases, but Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is urging school officials not to send students back home—where they could end up transmitting the virus to even more people.

    'It is not working': Just days after reopening, some colleges are closing down again

    US new coronavirus cases surpass 6.3M, deaths top 189K

    Fauci's comments come as U.S. officials as of Tuesday morning reported a total of 6,317,200 cases of the novel coronavirus virus since the country's epidemic began—up from 6,167,400 cases reported as of Friday morning.

    Data from the New York Times shows there are 15 states that have seen comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, meaning they've had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past week, and rates of newly reported cases are "staying high." Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

    Meanwhile, the Times' data shows that the daily averages of newly reported cases over the past seven days are "going down" in Georgia, Guam, and Mississippi, which all had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission.

    The Times' data also shows there are eight states that have seen comparatively lower rates of coronavirus transmission, meaning they've had a daily average of fewer than 15 newly reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past week, but are now seeing those rates "going up." Those states are Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

    In addition, the Times' data shows that Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and 25 states have had comparatively lower rates of new coronavirus cases over the past week, and those rates are "staying low." Those states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

    U.S. officials as of Tuesday morning also had reported a total of 189,076 deaths linked to the coronavirus since the country's epidemic began—up from 186,718 deaths reported as of Friday morning.

    According to the Times' data, nine states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the coronavirus rise over the past 14 days: Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.

    Colleges, universities emerge as new hot spots of coronavirus transmission

    Over the past few weeks, some colleges and universities have reopened and allowed students to return to campus and classes in person—and the schools quickly emerged as new hot spots of coronavirus transmission.

    As of Sept. 3, officials from more than 1,020 colleges and universities across the United States had reported a total of more than 51,000 new coronavirus cases, according to data compiled by the Times from a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. colleges and universities. And Axios' "Vitals" reports that at least five universities—Auburn University, Illinois State University, the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of South Carolina—each have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases.

    Colleges and universities have been using a variety of tactics to try to contain the virus' spread and get outbreaks under control.

    For example, James Madison University's (JMU) President Jonathan Alger last week announced that the university will move primarily to virtual learning through the end of the month, at least, due to a "rapid increase in the number of positive cases" on JMU's campus. Since in-person classes began at the school, university officials have reported more than 600 confirmed new coronavirus cases and test positivity rates of almost 17%, according to data posted on the school's website.

    Other colleges and universities also have switched to hybrids of in-person and virtual learning or to all virtual learning after restarting in-person classes quickly led to coronavirus outbreaks at the schools. In addition, some schools have warned that students could face disciplinary action if they break their schools' coronavirus-related restrictions, and others have implemented mandatory quarantines for students who test positive for the coronavirus or have been exposed to the virus.

    Further, many universities and colleges are responding to coronavirus outbreaks on their campuses by sending students back home to instead participate in virtual learning.

    Officials say colleges and universities facing outbreaks should not send students back home

    But health care officials are warning against that tactic, noting that sending home students who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus could spur new outbreaks in those communities, as well.

    During an interview last week on NBC's "Today" show, Fauci said the "worst thing" a college or university "could do" is send students home after an outbreak. "Keep them at the university in a place that's sequestered enough from the other students, but don't have them go home because they could be spreading it in their home state," Fauci said.

    Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House's coronavirus task force, during a press conference last week similarly said students who become infected with the new coronavirus should "isolate" on their campuses. "Do not return home if you're positive and spread the virus to your family, your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents," Birx said.

    ABC News reports that Birx during a call with governors last week reiterated that message. "It's really important that these students are continuously tested, isolated, and cared for and don't return to their multi-generational households where they could dramatically increase spread," Birx reportedly said  (Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 9/8; Baker/Witherspoon, Axios, 9/3; Watson et al., New York Times, 9/6; New York Times [1], 9/8; Deliso, ABC News, 9/2; New York Times [2], 9/8).

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