Special Report

25 College Towns Emerging as COVID Hotspots

Few places are more effective transmitters for spreading the coronavirus than colleges and universities. From dorm rooms to fraternities and sororities, huge classrooms to crowded stands at football games, American institutes of higher learning provide many opportunities for superspreader events. (Here’s the most recent update on how bad COVID is right now in every state.)

As students begin their fall semester, some college towns are already showing a significant uptick in new weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and total weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations. School administrators are scrambling to prevent infections from reaching the larger population.

To compile a list of 25 college towns emerging as COVID-19 hotspots, 24/7 Tempo reviewed county-level data on new weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cities, towns, villages, and Census-designated places were ranked based on the number of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in their surrounding county in the week Aug. 27-Sep. 2, 2023 per 100,000 residents in the hospital service area. Only places with at least 5,000 residents where at least 33.3% of the population is enrolled in college or graduate school were considered.  

The newest COVID-19 variants, EG.5 and BA.2.86, are just the latest iterations of COVID-19, which has stalked the world for three-and-a-half years. Some of the college towns reporting increases in weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and total weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations are well-known: West Lafayette in Indiana, home to Purdue University; College Station, Texas, where Texas A&M University is based; Gainesville, Florida, the University of Florida’s home; and of course Stanford, site of the blue-chip university of the same name. (These are the ZIP codes where the most people have college degrees.)

Three Southern locations – Georgia, Florida, and Texas – occupy the top three places among college town hotspots. At Texas A&M, pandemic clusters have emerged among sororities and in a Corps of Cadets dormitory. Professors are teaching behind plexiglass, and classes are conducted late in the evening so buildings are not overcrowded with students.

But there is no real pattern to where the pandemic is spreading nationwide. Virginia, New York and California all have four college towns each on the list. 

Click here to see the 25 college towns emerging as COVID-19 hotspots
Click here to read our detailed methodology

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