The spread of COVID-19 in the United States has slowed quickly in the past three weeks. After days when the number of cases rose by over 200,000 and death counts by 4,000, U.S. confirmed cases have reached 27,965,785. Fatal cases total 491,096. Because of variants that may spread faster or be more deadly, and a slow vaccination process, the worry remains that 600,000 people in America could be dead of the disease by summer.
COVID-19’s spread has been particularly aggressive at some colleges and universities. Campuses have been described as ideal superspreader locations. A recent article on colleges as superspreaders in Computer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering said, “… our findings suggest that college campuses present a risk to initiate superspreading events, but, at the same time, should be applauded for their rapid responses to successfully manage local outbreaks.”
The New York Times, in an ongoing project, has kept data on coronavirus cases at colleges and universities by state and individual educational institutions. The most recent update of this information shows that Texas has had by far the most cases in these settings. Cases total 31,157 at 84 schools. The three campuses with the most cases are Texas Tech University, with 3,141 at its Lubbock location; Texas A&M University, with 2,767 at its College Station campus; and the University of Texas at Austin, with 2,102.
These three universities share one thing in common, which is their sheer size. Texas Tech has over 40,000 students and Texas A&M has almost 70,000. The University of Texas at Austin has about 500,000.
Texas itself has had the second largest number of confirmed cases in the country. It ranks second in the nation, after California, with a figure of 2,572,012. Fatal cases total 41,484.
Texas has been hit hard in both large cities and rural areas. Harris County, one of the hardest hit in the nation and home to Houston, has had 338,274 confirmed cases and 4,760 fatalities. Dallas County has had 274,425 confirmed cases and 3,198 coronavirus deaths.
Scientists and public policy officials use another measurement beyond raw numbers. To make an apples-to-apples comparison they count cases and deaths per 100,000 people. The hardest-hit county in the entire United States base on highest confirmed case growth in the past seven days is Scurry County, Texas, at 803. That figure is over three times higher than the next county in the United States, taken against the same metric.
It appears that, in almost all situations, colleges and universities have been much more careful recently in terms of testing, enforced social distancing and, when necessary, the use of distance learning. If that is true, the growth in large case counts at some of America’s universities will improve.