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Study Finds Evidence of COVID-19 Spread from Spring Breakers

A new study has tracked nationwide effects of spread of COVID-19 by college students returning from popular Spring break destinations. "College Student Contribution to Local COVID-19 Spread: Evidence from University Spring Break Timing" was conducted by Daniel Mangrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University, and Paul Niekamp, an economics professor in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. The researchers examined the impact of college students' increased travel on COVID-19 case and mortality rates, based on data on 7.5 million students from 1,326 four-year colleges and universities across the United States.
"We find that the increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after students returned to campus," noted Niekamp, in a statement. "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."

To track students' mobility, the researchers used SafeGraph Social Distancing Metrics, a dataset that uses GPS pings from smartphone location data, a news announcement explained.

Among the study findings:

  • In counties with more students at universities with early Spring breaks (meaning those students returned from their travels to campus before the suspension of in-person classes), higher confirmed case growth rates were found.
  • Students who traveled through airports, to New York City or to popular Spring break destinations in Florida had more impact on the spread of COVID-19 compared to the average student.
  • Students traveling on cruise liners had no significant effect on local COVID-19 spread.

"Our results suggest that reducing long-distance student travel can reduce COVID-19 spread both within the university and for higher-risk individuals in the surrounding county," said Niekamp.

The full report is openly available on SSRN.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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