Are universities hotbeds of supercontagion?


By CAPosts 19 January, 2021 - 05:30pm 60 views

The poor evolution of the pandemic has spoiled the return to the university community classrooms for exams and teaching. Those responsible for academic institutions defend that "they are safe spaces", although the latest restrictions imposed in most communities have led them to rethink the intention of opening classes and giving priority to distance education. This is what the representatives of the students demand , who advocate maintaining the activity telematically in the face of the increase in infections and the lack of "adaptation", in their opinion, of the facilities. Two studies have addressed the situation: in one, Stanford researchers admit the risk that schools are hotbeds of supercontagion; But these scientists and others from Harvard University conclude that this threat can and will be averted.

The fear of the concentration of young people in the classroom, many of them from other communities and with great mobility, is due to their epidemiological peculiarities . Only 9.6% of diagnosed cases correspond to young people between 15 and 24 years old, according to data from the World Health Organization. However, peaks of between 15% and 20% have been detected in the range between 20 and 29 years in both Europe and America. "While many young people will not get sick or need a bed in the ICU, they are not immune to developing the serious effects of COVID-19," said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization . But the risk is not only due to the incidence among students. Greater social contact and the fact that many of them do not develop symptoms can facilitate the spread to teachers, university staff and the communities in which they live.

A study led by Hannah Lu, professor in the department of Engineering at Stanford and published in Computer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering , states that "universities pose a real risk of developing an extreme incidence of covid."

A total of 14 of the 30 universities studied showed "a peak of cases in the first two weeks of class ”. In them, always according to the research, six taught mainly online, six with mixed models (face-to-face and distance) and two with face-to-face classes. The maximum incidence (twice the national average) was registered in the universities studied in the first quarter, when, on the contrary, in the same period there had been a lower average rate of infections in the country. “This suggests that these initial college outbreaks are not related to national outbreak dynamics . Instead, they are local independent events driven by the reopening of the campus, ”says Hannah Lu.

Our results confirm fears that universities could become the new hot spots for covid transmission, says a researcher

“It is becoming increasingly clear. These shoots are independent local events driven by the reopening of the campus and the return of students. Our results confirm the fear that universities could become the new hot spots for COVID transmission. But at the same time, university administrators should be commended for their quick responses to successfully handle local outbreaks, ”adds Ellen Kuhl, co-author of the report.

In this regard, most college campuses, according to the same report, "It responds successfully to outbreaks and reduces their breeding numbers rapidly, well below one, in two or three weeks, for example, by temporarily switching to online training." "Most universities are able to quickly manage their outbreaks and suppress campus-wide infections, while neighboring communities are less successful in controlling the spread of the virus," says Hannah Lu.

Contagion Control

Elena Losina, a researcher at Harvard University, defends in another study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine , that "social distancing and the obligation to wear masks can prevent most cases of covid on university campuses and is very profitable" . "If routine tests are added to these measures, 96% of infections would be avoided," he says.

This study also does not rule out that the faculties can become sources of contagion. "Because students live in close contact, the probability of transmission increases," warns Losina, who adds that the presence of teaching or work personnel over 55 years of age in the faculties "increases the risk of mortality from covid." However, like the Stanford study, it maintains that the control of the pandemic in universities is effective, easy and at an affordable cost.

Even if campuses remain closed, there are likely to be many infections among faculty and students returning to their homes or homes around the university town, research warns

The investigation concludes that, "even if the campuses remain closed, it is probable that there are many infections between the professors and between the students who return to their houses or their homes around the university city". However, he warns that the cancellation of university events together with maintaining the broadest social distancing, a model of distance and face-to-face education as well as the use of masks "would prevent 87% of infections among students and teachers." According to this study, centered on facilities in the United States, the cost would be 170 dollars per infection prevented.

The maximum effectiveness of prevention measures, according to this study, would be achieved if the aforementioned strategies were added to the performance of tests every two weeks among students, even if they have no symptoms. The percentage of infections prevented would rise to 96%. Salamanca has already started and the University of Valladolid has announced for this Wednesday the screenings aimed at the entire university community in its four campuses: Valladolid, Palencia, Segovia and Soria. In Madrid they have started antigen testing in seven universities

Situation in Spain

In Spain, the president of the highest officials of the universities (CRUE) and rector of Córdoba, José Carlos Gómez Villamandos, and the Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells, they had advocated conducting tests in person if this action did not contravene "scrupulous" compliance with the agreed sanitary measures to avoid contagion. With this criterion, the Andalusian Public Universities (UPA), agreed on January 9th to bet on the maximum presence compatible with compliance with health regulations. This same weekend they have backtracked. In a last agreement, signed last Saturday , the rectors defend that they have adopted "how many measures have been necessary to guarantee the sanitary security of the activities and facilities". However, the new restrictions have forced them to modify the decision and have agreed "to assess the adoption of possible measures that allow reducing mobility, including, among them, the adaptation of academic calendars and the increase of online activities, be they teachers or those of evaluation ”. Back to telematic university.

The rectors affirm that universities are safe spaces

The data so far support the low incidence of the coronavirus in Spanish classrooms. Since last October 1, according to the information available by Crue with data from 46 higher academic centers, the cases detected in the university community account for 0.2% of the total population of the centers analyzed. There are 239 cases per 100,000, a figure much lower than the country's average

The University of Seville, with a campus scattered throughout the city, has registered 108 positive cases in the week of January 11 to 17, which represents a 1.39 per thousand of the total of the university community of Hispalense and 81 cases more than the 27 registered the previous week. Ana María López Jiménez, vice-rector of Social Services of the institution, attributes this increase to what has been registered in the city and highlights that no case originated in the academic field has been detected.

In this sense, López Jiménez highlights the coincidence of studies on university and covid in that in this area it is easy to control. "The combined measures we are taking are effective and our experience shows it," he highlights. The vice-chancellor points out that the University of Seville, unlike the US campuses investigated, "is part of the city, so the incidence of the pandemic in the environment is also reflected in the university community, but not by the classrooms." The institution has restricted face-to-face activity to a minimum in line with the increase in alert in the Andalusian capital, which is at level four.

José Antonio Sánchez Medina, vice-rector of Teaching Strategy and Planning at the Pablo de Olavide University, with a A concentrated campus, although without residences within it, questions that classrooms are sources of contagion, as Stanford's work maintains, and also coincides with Harvard research in that the cases that occur are very easily controlled. However, its monitoring team, which includes experts in coronavirus and epidemiology, has decided to maintain most of its activities without the presence of students until April. “The two main vectors are contacts and mobility. We cannot control what happens when the student is not in the classroom or on campus and, unlike colleges and institutes, our student body is highly mobile. Contagions do not occur because the campus is unsafe, but because of this mobility. So we have made the decision to keep most of the online activities out of social responsibility. It would be foolhardy not to do so, not because of the university, but because of the environment, "he explains.

The vice-rector of the UPO supports his statement with" experience. " Since the beginning of classes, he says, there have been only 13 positive cases at this university and, of these, 11 were generated off campus. “We have very strict protocols. The University is not a source of contagion ”, he says bluntly.

Students, in favor of telematic teaching

The decision to limit attendance coincides with the demand of the Coordinator of Student Representatives of Public Universities (CREUP), which has claimed that As much academic activity as possible is online to avoid "crowds in hallways and classrooms." The Student Union has directly demanded the cancellation of face-to-face tests as well as the Central Independent Trade Union and of Officials (CSIF).

The Ministry of Universities recalls that, according to the plans prepared for this course, "in case of impossibility of compliance of health measures, a hybrid teaching model or, if necessary, totally virtual must be implemented that respects the rights of students, professors and administration and service personnel, and that ensures the quality of both the teachings given and the evaluation of the same ”.

Students report "lack of information and preparation of universities"

Both the minister and the president of Crue affirm that Spanish universities are safe spaces and that teaching, bimodal, in most cases, is developing with the normality that current circumstances allow. "The decrease in attendance in classes when cases are detected in universities is slowing the spread of the disease," said the president of La Crue, who insisted on the importance of using all detection systems to ensure that the trend improves even more.

The State University Student Council (CEUNE) and the Coordinator of Student Representatives of Public Universities (CREUP) think otherwise and defend that "there is a lack of information and preparation of the universities." “Possible outbreaks and extreme conditions during the January exams are recurring themes that have been debated since the beginning of the academic year. However, neither the universities nor the institutions have adapted in due time and form to the repercussions of these, not complying with the sanitary measures in the universities during the ordinary call, discarding the possibility of the telematic evaluation and putting the safety of the students at risk " They state in a statement.

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Source: Elpais

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