Title

The Characteristics of Student SARS-CoV-2 Cases on an Urban University Campus: Observational Study

Authors

Megan Landry, Office of the Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Amita Vyas, Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Nitasha Nagaraj, Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Gary A. Sardon, Department of Epidemiology, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Sydney Bornstein, Department of Epidemiology, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Hannah Latif, Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Padmini Kucherlapaty, Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Karen McDonnell, Department of Prevention and Community Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Amanda Castel, Department of Epidemiology, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.
Lynn Goldman, Office of the Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States.

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

9-13-2022

Journal

Interactive journal of medical research

Volume

11

Issue

2

DOI

10.2196/39230

Keywords

COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; college; communicable disease; contact tracing; outbreak prevention; pandemic; prevention; school health; students; university; young adult; youth

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Academic institutions are central hubs for young adults, laden with academic and social interactions and communal living arrangements, heightening the risk of transmission of many communicable diseases, including COVID-19. Shortly after the start of the fall 2020 academic year, institutions of higher learning were identified as hot spots for rises in COVID-19 incidence among young adults. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to identify the characteristics of student SARS-CoV-2 cases, identify the extent to which the student population adhered to preventative strategies, and examine behaviors that would put them at higher risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. METHODS: This observational study comprises 1175 university students at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis between August 3, 2020, and November 30, 2021. Case investigation and contact tracing tools were developed by the Campus COVID-19 Support Team and captured in REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture). Trained case investigators were notified of a case and attempted to contact all cases within 24 hours of the case receiving their lab result. Associations between case characteristics and number of contacts were examined using Wilcoxon rank sum tests. Knowledge of exposure, behaviors since exposure, student residence status, and fraternity and sorority life affiliation were examined using chi-square tests. RESULTS: Positive student cases reported a median of 3 close contacts, and 84.6% (993/1175) reported at least one symptom with a median of 4 COVID-19 symptoms. Congestion (628/1175, 53.4%), cough (530/1175, 45.1%), and headache (484/1175, 41.2%) were the most frequently reported symptoms. Moreover, 36% (415/1160) reported that they did not know how they were exposed to the virus. Among those aware of contact with a COVID-19 confirmed case, 55.1% (109/198) reported the contact was a close friend or family member, and 25.3% (50/198) reported that it was someone with whom they lived. Athlete (vs nonathlete; P<.001), on-campus (vs off-campus; P<.001), and undergraduate (vs graduate; P=.01) students all reported a significantly higher number of contacts. Students living on campus were more likely to report attending campus events in the 2 days prior to symptom onset or positive test result (P=.004). Students with fraternity or sorority affiliation were more likely to report attending campus events in the 2 days prior to symptom onset or positive test result (P<.001). CONCLUSIONS: COVID-19 cases have not yet stabilized to a predictable state, but this study provides case characteristics and insights for how academic institutions might prepare to mitigate outbreaks on their campuses as the world plans for the transition from pandemic to endemic COVID-19.

Department

Environmental and Occupational Health

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