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Researchers: College students will need multiple COVID-19 tests per week to safely return to campus

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 12: Sophomore Sophie Butte helps Freshman Alex Petty move his rug across Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University on March 12, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students have been asked to move out of their dorms by March 15 due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) risk. All classes will be moved online for the rest of the spring semester. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — College students across the country should be screened for the coronavirus every two to three days in order to prevent the spread, Yale University researchers say.

“It is possible to reopen U.S. residential colleges safely in the fall,” said lead author A. David Paltiel, PhD in a news release. “But it will require high-cadence screening in addition to strict adherence to masking, social distancing and other preventive measures.”

Dorm living, dining halls, crowded classes and the eagerness to party are the perfect storm for mass infection in this population. Viruses spread through what’s called a “reproductive spread.” It’s an estimate of the number of people, on average, an infected person will transmit a virus to others if in close contact. While scientists don’t yet know the exact number, they do know the coronavirus spreads at an exponentially higher rate than the flu

The recommended number of tests will allow universities to identify silent spreaders.

“You cannot move swiftly enough to contain an outbreak if you wait until you see symptoms before you respond,” said co-author Amy Zheng of Harvard Medical School in the same news release.” This virus is too readily transmitted by highly infectious, asymptomatic [individuals].”

In 2019, there were 43,503 students enrolled at Indiana University-Bloomington. Ball State welcomed 22,541 while Purdue’s total enrollment was 44,551. Should students get infected – and they will, researchers say – the result will be a domino effect, putting those in the confines of campus at risk as well as people outside the gates.

“Any school that cannot meet these minimum requirement screening standards or maintain uncompromising control over good prevention practices has to ask itself if it has any business reopening,” added Paltiel. 

Indiana is grappling with how to reopen schools. The sharing of common spaces, crowded classrooms and the yearn to socialize applies just as much to K-12th graders as it does to college students. 

Indiana Public Schools announced Thursday that students will start the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning. As of now, students will return to the classroom come October.

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over five years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets.

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