Three of the 20 universities with the most cases of Covid-19 are in Alabama, and the vast majority … [+]
Public health concerns continue to grow about the spikes in the coronavirus now occurring at American colleges and universities. The New York Times is maintaining a database that tracks the number and rate of new Covid-19 cases at more than 1,500 American colleges and universities — including every four-year public institution, every private college competing in N.C.A.A. sports, plus many others that have reported cases. The Times tracker comes with a number of limitations and caveats, but it’s still the most comprehensive tabulation of campus cases currently available.
According to the Times, as of September 3, there have been at least 51,000 cases and 60 deaths reported at these institutions since the pandemic began, and more than 100 universities have reported at least 100 cases since the outset of the pandemic. In counties where college students constitute at least 10% of the population, rates of the virus are surging, compared to all other counties where the rates are declining on average.
In order to learn a little more about those campuses with the most severe severe Covid-19 spikes, consider the top 20 schools for total number of cases on the Times list as of September 3.
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University of Alabama 1,367
University of South Carolina 1,192
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 1,100
Auburn University* 1,074
Illinois State University 1,029
University of Alabama, Birmingham* 1,027
East Carolina University 971
University of Iowa 962
University of Dayton 911
Texas Christian University 883
North Carolina State University 871
Iowa State University 852
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 772
University of Kentucky 760
University of Central Florida 754
Texas A & M University 752
University of Georgia 698
Baylor University 689
Georgia Southern University 638
University of Missouri 633
(* Includes cases from medical school, hospital, clinic, or other programs in health sciences)
What do these hot-spot institutions have in common?
- Seven are in the Southeastern Conference, one of the Power 5 conferences still determined to play a football schedule in the fall.
- Most are in the southern part of the United States. So much for the goofy theory that warm weather will help make the virus “just go away.” The states of Alabama, North Carolina and Texas each have three institutions on the list, and Georgia, Iowa and Illinois each have two.
- All but six of the universities – UNC (Chapel Hill), North Carolina State University, East Carolina University, University of Kentucky, Illinois State, and the University of Illinois – are in states led by Republican governors, who have generally encouraged their schools to open their campuses in the fall at the same time they have been less likely than their Democrat counterparts to take aggressive steps like mandating the wearing of masks or issuing executive orders to close establishments to stem outbreaks of the virus. Some have even interfered with local mandates intended to keep the virus in check. This finding is consistent with research by John Barnshaw of Ad Astra and Chris Marsicano of Davidson College who found that if a state voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, the colleges in that state were significantly more likely to have planned to deliver more in-person instruction in the fall. This was also true for states with Republican governors and Republican control of legislatures.
- Many of the universities on the list did not require students to submit a Covid-19 test result prior to returning to campus, and even fewer are requiring random or repeated testing after they arrive. Nonetheless, Baylor is in the top twenty despite requiring students to submit a negative test result before arriving on campus. And the University of Illinois, widely recognized for requiring “all university faculty, staff and students participating in any on-campus activities… to participate in on-campus Covid-19 testing twice per week and receive negative results at least every four days” also made the list. Rigorous testing may be a key ingredient to an effective strategy, but it does not guarantee success.
Spikes in coronavirus cases carry health threats far beyond the campuses involved, and given the limited testing occurring at most institutions, these numbers are almost certainly underestimates of the problem within the communities where they’re located. As the fall unfolds, careful monitoring of campus epidemiology will reveal more about the factors – both at the policy and political levels – that are linked to increased risk of the virus.