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Expected Spring Break–Related COVID-19 Surge Reported on Some College Campuses



In March 2020, many college students had to cancel their spring break trips as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country. A year later, some students took their own vacations to popular destinations like Miami Beach, Florida, where city officials had to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew in its entertainment district in response to the large influx of spring break visitors.

While some schools did not have a traditional spring break, others did and attempted to curb the expected bump in COVID cases when students return to campus.

Northwestern University students are currently in the middle of their break and will return for their spring session March 30 to a seven-day modified quarantine period called “Wildcat Wellness.”

“During this week, students will complete a limited set of essential activities and be tested for COVID-19 twice,” said Jon Yates, a Northwestern spokesman. “We expect to see some additional cases the following travel back to Evanston and Chicago, but the Wellness period will help manage any initial cases and allow for the quarter to begin smoothly.”

In the past seven days, the positive rate at Northwestern was 0.18 percent, with 15 new positive cases, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.

In California, UC Davis took a different approach to encourage its students to avoid traveling for spring break.

The school offered $75 grants to students to have a “staycation” on campus during the week of March 20 to 24. More than 2,000 students received this grant, according to a UC Davis spokesperson.

Students who decided to travel off campus are expected to get tested every three to four days and complete a 10-day quarantine if they live in residential halls once they return.

Coronavirus cases are slightly rising in major metro areas of Florida as young people continue to flock to the state for spring break. Here, a crowd of people gathers while exiting the area as an 8 p.m. curfew goes into effect on March 21, in Miami Beach, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some colleges, however, did not have an official spring break.

Last October, the University of Southern California canceled its traditional spring break in favor of a few “wellness days” off throughout the semester. But some student still took their own vacations while attending online classes and the school is now experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Over the last week, we had a group of students that traveled to international locations where a lot of other students were on spring break,” Sarah Van Orman, the chief health officer of USC Student Health, said. “A couple dozen students came back with COVID infections, many of which were confirmed to be variants.”

Van Orman said the university wasn’t sure initially if students would still travel during the spring semester but was made aware weeks earlier of students’ plans to visit popular destinations.

“We were concerned about it,” she said. “It’s not a question of if students will get infected. They will be, and it will cause a huge spread.”

Van Orman said there are 39 new cases as of last week and added that the “vast majority” of students at USC have been following proper COVID safety guidelines and have not engaged in high-risk travel.

The school encouraged all students to get tested and abide by quarantine protocols upon their return.

From January to early March, the COVID positivity rate at USC dropped from 2.15 percent to 0.28 percent. Now, the rate is up to 0.53 percent, according to USC’s COVID-19 dashboard.

USC’s spring break usually falls earlier in the year than other schools, Van Orman said, so other universities may see a similar spike in the weeks to come.

Boston University is starting to experience this spike now, as 41 students and 11 faculty and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between March 17 and March 23.

“Even though spring break was canceled, students can still choose to travel,” BU student health official Judy Platt told a university research publication. “In the last few days of case investigations and contact tracing, we are starting to see more positive COVID test results linked to ‘spring break’ travel.”

She added that it may take “10 to 14 days to see the full effect of people interacting with one another.”

The school has a stay-in-place advisory when students return to campus and students complete a daily symptom attestation and are tested multiple times a week, a BU spokesman said.

As of March 25, BU has a 0.18 percent positivity rate among students, according to the Boston University COVID-19 testing dashboard.

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St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) had to issue a “temporary safety pause” on some in-person activities Wednesday through April 2 after finding a “significant and concerning spike in positive cases,” according to an email sent to students.

In a statement to The Liberty Buzz Friday, STAC president Ken Daly said that the school did not have a traditional spring break in order to avoid student travel. While some students did leave campus, the school believes “that only a small number of students traveled outside the local region.”

The positivity rate for those tested over the last week was 4.14 percent, according to STAC’s COVID-19 dashboard.

With April around the corner, spring break season is winding down. But as students return from their travels, school-sanctioned or not, a surge in COVID cases on campuses might just be starting.



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