Coronavirus on college campuses fueling nation's largest outbreaks, analysis shows

A new analysis released on Friday by USA Today finds that college campuses are fueling the largest coronavirus outbreaks across the United States.

Of the 25 hottest outbreaks in the U.S., communities with dominant colleges and thousands of recently returned students represent 19 of them.

Harrisonburg, Va., home of James Madison University, topped the list with 1,562 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people within the last two weeks.


The communities where Washington State University, Central Texas College, Georgia Southern University and Iowa State University are located round out the top five areas with large college populations that have seen a spike in cases.

Many schools, like the University of Mississippi, started the fall semester with a mix of in-person and online classes in an attempt to prevent an outbreak, the analysis noted. However, the wave of students who returned to Lafayette County in Mississippi has triggered 1,053 coronavirus cases, according to the analysis.

Washington State, located in the college town of Pullman, Wash., isn’t even having students take in-person classes yet, USA Today reported. The university asked students to remain home to continue virtual learning, but many students had already signed leases and would be required to pay.

"We don't have the right to tell students where they can and can't live,"  spokesman Phil Weiler told the outlet. "Our students are young adults. We need them to make the right decisions."

Community spread is most likely occurring as students interact in apartments or crowded bars, according to officials. 

There were only 70 cases reported per 100,000 residents in Whitman County in late July before Washington State students returned to the area, according to the county public health director Troy Henderson.


“About 12,000 young adults pulled into a very small rural town,” Henderson said, and now the locality is reporting 1,295 cases in the last two weeks.

Despite the rise in cases, the Trump administration has pushed for colleges and universities to remain open.

President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE on Thursday called for schools in the Big Ten Conference to play football this season and said it is “much safer for students to live on campus,” despite many schools reporting outbreaks on campuses and a number of them sending students home due to outbreaks. 

“The alternative is no good, going home, spreading the virus to high-risk Americans. They want to be on campus, they want to go back to school and the parents want them back to school, maybe more so than they want to be back in school,” Trump said.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Big Ten school, announced Wednesday it is shifting to two weeks of remote instruction and quarantining all residents in residence halls due to an increase in positive test results.  

Penn State University, another Big Ten school, also said this week it would be pausing team activities indefinitely for several programs after 48 athletes tested positive.