Will we get large Covid-19 outbreaks by having college students return to campus? Answer: Most likely yes.
Why? Students are not likely to limit contacts outside class this Fall upon return to school. And the mitigation strategies that are needed likely will not be in place. [Source: Study by Univ of Penn/Swarthmore Profs.]
So Universities will likely collect the tuition, bring the students back to campus, cause the outbreak, declare emergency, send the students home — a planned failure (but a profitable one). Thoughts?
The study describes how plans to prevent Covid-19 cases spreading likely will fail, and we’ll get large outbreaks IF (1) students party in big groups, (2) students go to bars in groups, (3) students don’t wear face masks when in groups.
The study authors suggest that it is possible to prevent a large outbreak of key mitigation strategies are in place.  Large classes (over 30) will have to go online.  Testing must occur.  Re-testing of Covid-19 positive tests.  Face mask use must be universal.  There must be contact tracing.  students must be quarantined On campus if exposed — not sent home.
Question: How many of these mitigation strategies will Michigan State or University of Michigan put in place as students return to campus?
Question: Is there enough High quality & reliable testing capacity in place?
Question: are there an adequate number of contact tracers hired & ready to do their job on Day One?
Question: How will University & cities nearby enforce face mask wearing — a lynchpin to preventing a Covid-19 outbreak?
But a chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
The weak link is what?: students will gather outside class & dorm. If the gatherings happen normally — such as at a dining hall, a large Covid-19 outbreak is VERY LIKELY.
Question: Will Michigan State students eat in dorms?
Question: Will Michigan State or the nearby City prevent large student gatherings at parties?
The study authors emphasize how the preventing of the spread of Covid-19 requires limits on student contacts (e.g. just contact with a roommate):
“But Peck and Gressman concluded that it will be extremely important for students to refrain from all contact with one another outside of academic and residential settings. (In a residential setting, the study assumed students will each have one close contact — their roommate.)” [That means no communal eating in large halls.]
“Even very small rates of contact in large group settings like dining halls or parties may be sufficient to sustain an outbreak on campus regardless of any other protective measures which have been put into place,” they wrote in the paper.”
“If students aren’t inclined to forgo optional social contact, that’s the kind of thing that can overwhelm any kind of mitigation strategies,” Gressman said. “There’s a lot of talk about what’s going to go on in the classroom and are they going to put up barriers and things like that. That stuff is really important, but one of the takeaways should be, ‘It’s time to move the conversation forward.’ Because it doesn’t matter what you do in the classroom if you don’t manage all those other aspects as well.”
“College administrations, in the many fall reopening plans they’ve released, have been wary to touch on social contact between students and how — or whether — it will be prevented. Punitive measures will likely be unpopular with students.”
– Patrick Levine Rose