Art by Siena Cizdziel.
With the fall semester just around the corner, universities have been scrambling to institute guidelines to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks. A recent study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School detailed the necessary precautions that in-residence universities would have to take to prevent SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks.
Researchers analyzed a model of a hypothetical group of 5000 students, 10 of whom had undetected infections with the novel coronavirus. The study found that universities should use low sensitivity, high-specificity tests – those with higher rates of false positives but lower rates of false negatives. These tests must be administered every 2 days to all students to control an outbreak, with an estimated cost of $470 per student per semester. In addition, the study also found that, for testing measures to be effective, schools must operate under strict social distancing, implement mandatory indoor mask-wearing, and “de-densify” classroom and living spaces.
This study indicates that, if the correct precautions are taken, residential colleges could be able to contain, even if not prevent, COVID-19 outbreaks on campus. Notably, the study did not address a crucial aspect of university COVID-19 planning: the effect that a potential outbreak may have on university staff and surrounding communities. This must be addressed if universities are to safely reopen in the fall.