COVID on Campus

On July 17, Rice University announced its plan for the fall semester, which included a hybrid mode of instruction where students could attend classes either virtually or in person. The decision wasn’t without controversy; in the weeks that followed, multiple faculty members at Rice wrote of their concerns with the plan to begin classes, eventually culminating in a petition to convene a campus-wide discussion regarding the risks and benefits of opening campus. The petition garnered nearly 100 faculty signatures.

Despite such complaints, Rice opened its doors to in-person students on August 11th. And despite all of the concerns, the university has done a remarkable job at keeping COVID case counts relatively low.

Rice’s success at maintaining low case counts–recording only 37 positive cases across 36,183 tests as of October 10–is not typical of most colleges. At universities across the country, reopening was often accompanied by a surge in new COVID-19 cases; surges that, in many instances, forced those universities to reverse their reopening decisions within just a few weeks.

The table below presents cumulative university-affiliated COVID cases, broken down by college (from the New York Times):

COVID-19 on Campus

Last updated January 25th, 2021

In addition to the criticism leveled against university administrators for jeopardizing the health and safety of their students, to what extent have reopenings put the community at large at greater risk?

One way to answer this question is to analyze case counts attributable to university students as a relative proportion of a county’s overall case counts. The New York Times offers data in both forms: college-affiliated cases and county cases (cumulative). In combination, the data tells a story about which colleges are struggling the most with COVID-19, which college towns saw a COVID spike after university reopenings, and which cities have problems much larger than students throwing fraternity parties.

Below, you can explore your county’s case count relative to its university-affiliated case counts.

COVID-19 on Campus

University cases as a proportion of their overall county