Monday, November 16, 2020

In-person classes may have helped spread coronavirus in rural college towns in the Upper Midwest and more

"One cause of the spike in covid-19 cases in rural communities in the West, Northwest, and Midwest is likely the return of in-person classes at colleges and universities, experts in infectious diseases said during a briefing last week," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "Researchers with the Infectious Diseases Society of America also said the pandemic is likely to stick around until the summer or fall 2021 – with or without a vaccine."

"States like North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Montana, Wisconsin and others avoided high numbers of cases throughout the summer," Carey reports. "But cases began to accelerate in early September. That timing leads Andrew Pavia, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to theorize that the reopening of colleges was a major factor in the surge in those states."

Most of the states with surging coronavirus infections have kept in-person school and extracurricular activities going, Pavia said during the briefing. He also noted that individual events like the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, have contributed to the spike, Carey reports. 

Pavia said he's concerned about the effect of the surge on rural hospitals, which are already stretched thin, and predicts that things will get worse over the next two months: "The big problem is, hospitalizations go up a week to two weeks after case rates go up. Deaths go up about a month after hospitalizations go up. Our case rates are still going up; we need to flatten them. The situation in the hospitals is going to be quite a bit worse (in a few weeks) than it is today."

Scaled-back Thanksgiving celebrations will be the key to lowering rates, Pavia said. The pandemic will most likely end next summer or fall, and advises rural residents to slow the disease's spread in the meantime by wearing protective gear, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowds, Carey reports.

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