Examination of SARS-CoV-2 In-Class Transmission at a Large Urban University with Public Health Mandates Using Epidemiological and Genomic Methodology

Kayla Kuhfeldt, Jacquelyn Turcinovic, Madison Sullivan, Lena Landaverde, Lynn Doucette-Stamm, Davidson H. Hamer, Judy T. Platt, Catherine Klapperich, Hannah E. Landsberg, John H. Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Importance: SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, has displayed person-to-person transmission in a variety of indoor situations. This potential for robust transmission has posed significant challenges and concerns for day-to-day activities of colleges and universities where indoor learning is a focus for students, faculty, and staff. Objective: To assess whether in-class instruction without any physical distancing, but with other public health mitigation strategies, is a risk for driving SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study examined the evidence for SARS-CoV-2 transmission on a large urban US university campus using contact tracing, class attendance, and whole genome sequencing during the 2021 fall semester. Eligible participants were on-campus and off-campus individuals involved in campus activities. Data were analyzed between September and December 2021. Exposures: Participation in class and work activities on a campus with mandated vaccination and indoor masking but that was otherwise fully open without physical distancing during a time of ongoing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, both at the university and in the surrounding counties. Main Outcomes and Measures: Likelihood of in-class infection was assessed by measuring the genetic distance between all potential in-class transmission pairings using polymerase chain reaction testing. Results: More than 600000 polymerase chain reaction tests were conducted throughout the semester, with 896 tests (0.1%) showing detectable SARS-CoV-2; there were over 850 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection identified through weekly surveillance testing of all students and faculty on campus during the fall 2021 semester. The rolling mean average of positive tests ranged between 4 and 27 daily cases. Of more than 140000 in-person class events and a total student population of 33000 between graduate and undergraduate students, only 9 instances of potential in-class transmission were identified, accounting for 0.0045% of all classroom meetings. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, the data suggested that under robust transmission abatement strategies, in-class instruction was not an appreciable source of disease transmission..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2225430
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 4 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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