Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: re-opening universities is high risk

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 01 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3365

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  1. Gavin Yamey, professor of global health and public policy1,
  2. Rochelle P Walensky, chief of division of infectious diseases
  1. 1Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
  1. Correspondence to: G Yamey
    @gyamey and @rwalensky on Twitter

The key is to curb community transmission then provide frequent testing

Over a third of US colleges and universities fully reopened in August.1 It was risky: at the beginning of the month, the US had about 55 000 new cases per day2 and no federal covid-19 control plan or coordinated vision for safely reopening universities. Today, the national reopening experiment already looks to have been a disaster.

Major campus outbreaks have led many large universities, including the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, to shut down again. Only a week after classes started on 10 August, most of which were face to face, UNC, home to about 30 000 students, reported 130 new infections in students and five in employees.3 During 1-27 August, there were 756 confirmed new infections at UNC.4 This scenario has played out at universities nationwide,5 and by 26 August, there had been at least 26 000 new infections at over 750 colleges and universities.6

American universities faced financial pressures to reopen and generally expected campus infections to happen as merely the cost of doing business. But this attitude was cavalier. A multistate US survey found that about a quarter of people with …

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