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These People Spread Coronavirus More Than Others, Study Warns

Fun in the sun resulted in illness and death.

Right around the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agreed that the coronavirus had reached pandemic status, college students around the country flooded beaches in honor of a long-standing tradition: spring break. Many health experts grimaced as photographs and videos of young adults partying in large groups, practicing no social distancing whatsoever, began circulating around the internet. 

Now, researchers have revealed just how impactful spring break celebrations were on the global health crisis, and their findings are startling to say the least.

According to published research out of Ball State University titled "College Student Contribution to Local COVID-19 Spread: Evidence from University Spring Break Timing", spring breakers were responsible for spreading the virus in a major way. 

Growth Rates Peaked Two Weeks Later

"We find that the increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after students returned to campus," said Paul Niekamp, an economics professor in the Miller College of Business, explains in a press release accompanying his research. "Consistent with secondary spread to more vulnerable populations, we find an increase in mortality growth rates that peaked four to five weeks after students returned."

Niekamp, who conducted the study with Daniel Mangrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University, collected data on 1,326 four-year universities across the nation that enroll over 7.5 million students. They examined the impact of increased travel by the students (via GPS pings) on COVID-19 case and mortality growth rates in the United States.

They found significant correlation between cases of coronavirus and spring break activity. For example, counties with more early spring break students had higher confirmed case growth rates than counties with fewer of those students. Also, the increase in cases peaked two weeks after students returned to campus — as the virus tends to have an incubation period of up to two weeks. Then, four to five weeks after students returned, secondary spread to more vulnerable populations peaked.

Those who traveled through airports — New York City and Florida destinations — contributed more to the spread of COVID-19 than the average student. Finally, interestingly enough there was no major evidence of students who took cruises contributing to community spread. 

Researchers noted that schools with earlier spring breaks — in which students returned back to campus "faced large inflows of potentially infected returning students before the suspension of in-person classes while areas with universities with later spring breaks did not face this influx."

May Inform Virus Prevention in Fall

The study authors hope that universities will use their research to implement virus prevention policies in the upcoming school year, in order to avoid similar community spread. 

"As of this time, universities across the United States are deciding how to conduct in-person classes for the Fall 2020 semester. Some institutions have changed their academic calendars to eliminate breaks when students typically travel and to conclude in-person classes before Thanksgiving," says Niekamp. "Our results suggest that reducing long-distance student travel can reduce COVID-19 spread both within the university" and in the surrounding communities.

As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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