All eyes on college campuses as transmission ticks up

Watch List: Arkansas Hillsborough County, FL Greene County, MO NYC and surrounding area Tulsa County, OK Davidson County, TN

The average rate of illness transmission (Rt) across the country has begun to edge up over the past two weeks. With the cold and flu season on the horizon – and COVID-19 cases holding steady at a very high baseline – this trend is concerning. In Arkansas, where Kinsa’s Rt metric has been moderately elevated for several weeks, confirmed COVID cases are now beginning to rise. In neighboring Missouri, Greene County has also seen high illness transmission in recent weeks. The exact reasons for the increased transmission are unknown, but case clusters have been reported in many public schools and universities. It’s possible that we’re also seeing the impact of social distancing and mask fatigue. 

In all 50 states, colleges and universities are becoming hotspots for virus transmission. A recent New York Times survey found that as colleges and universities have begun to reopen, case spikes predictably follow. The University of Minnesota greeted its students in August and the University of Maryland welcomed students this week. Kinsa’s data shows an upward trend in illness transmission in both Minneapolis and Baltimore. The Nashville area in Tennessee is also seeing high illness transmission – following the resumption in in-person classes at universities like Vanderbilt, and the expiration of a State of Emergency.

At the six-month mark of the pandemic, people are understandably grasping for a sense of regularity. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rt has been mildly elevated for a couple of weeks, suggesting cases may increase in the near future – but some local community events are resuming. Until transmission is brought down, decisions like this may be premature.