coronavirus college

College Communities See Spikes In Virus Rates

As universities struggle with high virus rates, many host counties are showing similar increases.

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With increasing evidence of raucous behavior and skyrocketing positivity rates on America's college campuses, there is growing concern over the spillover effect in local campus communities.

After all, college towns are just that, host communities that are home to thousands of students, faculty and staff. And many businesses earn their livelihoods from the influx of thousands of students who eat, shop and live in areas off-campus.

In ordinary years, that means millions of dollars for those local businesses, but with that largesse now comes the threat of increased exposure to coronavirus.

A good example is Dane County Wisconsin, home to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As UWM struggles with its own increase in virus cases, the county has seen a similar spike. And that worrisome news is not lost on the larger community.

"UW-Madison is part of the Madison community and has an impact on all of us," Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said this week. "Yesterday, 82% of positive cases tested by UW were students who live off campus. The reality is that students are not confined to campus, they travel off-campus to work, volunteer, run errands, visit nearby relatives and explore area attractions."

"We need everyone to take precautions to help keep our community safe."

And it's not just Wisconsin. College communities across America are showing alarming spikes, which closely align with the return of students to local campuses.

Take McClean County, Illinois, for example, home to Illinois State University. The county saw a marked increase in cases, hitting a high of 292 new cases on Sept. 4, almost exactly two weeks after ISU classes resumed.

There were commensurate spikes in Champaign County after the start of classes at the University of Illinois; in Coles County, the home of Eastern Illinois University; and in Dekalb County, where Northern Illinois University reported Tuesday it currently had 58 students and two faculty testing positive.

Across America, there have been similar stories. Late Monday, students in Stillwater, Oklahoma, staged a noisy demonstration outside the Board of Education offices after the schools suspended athletic events due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Stillwater is home to Oklahoma State University, which has reported 792 cases since students returned in August.

"Stillwater is consistently showing one of the nation's highest rates of spread and high positivity levels from testing," the schools said in a statement. "We ask that the people, businesses, and other organizations in Stillwater work to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in our community, so that in-person extracurricular activities and instruction may resume for the children of Stillwater."

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday expressed confidence in the precautions being taken by officials in the Wisconsin university system. But he once again called on students to do their part.

"We just have to make sure that students, especially in the university system, really take on the issue of individual responsibility," Evers said. "That's the bottom line."

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