Multiple COVID-19 Clusters on a University Campus - North Carolina, August 2020

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020 Oct 2;69(39):1416-1418. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6939e3.


Preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), in institutes of higher education presents a unique set of challenges because of the presence of congregate living settings and difficulty limiting socialization and group gatherings. Before August 2020, minimal data were available regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in these settings. On August 3, 2020, university A in North Carolina broadly opened campus for the first time since transitioning to primarily remote learning in March. Consistent with CDC guidance at that time (1,2), steps were taken to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 on campus. During August 3-25, 670 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were identified; 96% were among patients aged <22 years. Eighteen clusters of five or more epidemiologically linked cases within 14 days of one another were reported; 30% of cases were linked to a cluster. Student gatherings and congregate living settings, both on and off campus, likely contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the university community. On August 19, all university A classes transitioned to online, and additional mitigation efforts were implemented. At this point, 334 university A-associated COVID-19 cases had been reported to the local health department. The rapid increase in cases within 2 weeks of opening campus suggests that robust measures are needed to reduce transmission at institutes of higher education, including efforts to increase consistent use of masks, reduce the density of on-campus housing, increase testing for SARS-CoV-2, and discourage student gatherings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Behavior
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult