As colleges and universities decide to return to full-time classes this fall, they can ensure the safety of surrounding communities by discouraging students from traveling during college vacations.
This conclusion was reached by new studies that reveal what many already suspected: spring break trips may have contributed to the spread coronavirus back in March, when the pandemic rose sharply in the United States.
A new study by Ball and Vanderbilt used GPS smartphone data to track the movement of more than 7 million US college students to study the impact of spring break on the distribution of COVID-19.
The researchers emphasized that they used the de-identified data of the smartphone, that is, they do not know the names or any identifying information of anyone included in their study.
Using the data, they were able to pinpoint which cellular signals seemed to be sent “home” to campuses. They then tracked changes in their location over time periods that are known to correlate with their respective university-authorized spring breaks to assess where students traveled and how they got there.
Within the weeks following spring break, many colleges experienced an increase in the number of students who tested positive for the new coronavirus. Many of these schools have found that annual spring breaks between late February and early March roughly precede class cancellation due to coronavirus, which has spread throughout the country since late March.
While young people are generally not severely affected by the new coronavirus, experts say they could spread the virus to other people when they returned from the gap, with the influx of potentially infected travelers during spring break, leading to an increase in the number of cases coronavirus in communities surrounding campus.
Students who traveled by plane to their destination had the greatest impact, especially in high-risk areas in Florida and New York.
According to Dr. Glenn Fennelli, head of the Rutgers Department of Pediatrics, the fact that children and young people are less likely to develop symptoms or serious complications from using COVID-19 can help spread in their communities.
“Many people may have minimal or no symptoms at all, and overall they’re less likely to feel bad,” says Fennelli. “Because of this, young people are less likely to stay at home and are more likely to physically interact with groups of friends than adults.”
“Another disturbing observation this past spring was that not all college students followed public health guidelines,” said Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Columbia University and ABC News medical correspondent. “There have been numerous reports of large parties, spring breakers that physically could not distance, and many without masks.”
Although the mortality rate among college students has not increased significantly, in the districts where they live, approximately 4-5 weeks later there was an increase in mortality from COVID-19, which increases the likelihood of a two-level spread from students to college. students, and then more vulnerable people in the community, such as older people and people with underlying diseases.
However, despite these alarming findings, researchers cautioned that they probably still underestimated the true impact of the spring break trip, which had a pandemic.
“We are studying the impact of university students’ spring break trips on the distribution of COVID-19 in their university district, ”said Dr. Paul Nykamp, one of the researchers who conducted the study. “However, many students left their universities after the cancellation of individual classes and returned home. Therefore, there is probably a spatial side effect that we are not collecting. ”
Researchers behind the study view these results as a call to action for universities and offer suggestions for limiting the spread of the virus in the future.
According to Niekamp, universities should consider restructuring the academic calendar to avoid interruptions when students usually travel long distances, for example, completing personal classes before Thanksgiving and restricting college trips to sports.
“Universities have the right to make targeted decisions that affect the behavior of nearly 8 million students, which can infect others both on campus and in surrounding communities,” Niekamp told ABC News.
Meanwhile, Patel said reliable contact tracing would be important for any university considering opening a campus this fall.
“This will undoubtedly be one of the most important ways to prevent outbreaks on campus until we get the vaccine,” Patel said.
Jessica Johnson, MD, is a senior resident in the emergency department at Stanford University and a member of the ABC News Medical Newsroom.
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According to the researchers, spring break returned COVID-19 to their communities. originally appeared on abcnews.go.com