Colleges, universities top list of recent COVID-19 outbreaks in D.C., study shows

Updated: Dec. 11, 2020 at 7:14 p.m.

Colleges and universities are the most common sources of COVID-19 outbreaks in the District, according to an outbreak data guide city officials released Monday.

The guide reports that 30 of the city’s 109 outbreaks from Aug. 1 through Nov. 26 have come from D.C. colleges and universities, accounting for 27.5 percent of all outbreaks in the city during that time period. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the city’s outbreak data contains “caveats,” since the reported cases may not originate at the site of the outbreak.

The District defines an outbreak as “two or more cases of COVID-19 reported at a location within a 14-day period,” even if those cases are unrelated.

The total includes cases from both on-campus residence halls and off-campus housing, where a trend of gatherings and social distancing violations have fueled infections and sparked concerns from local residents and students as COVID-19 cases continue to reach record levels in D.C. this fall.

The guide states D.C. officials collected data through a combination of case investigations initiated from community reporting and interviews with those who caught the virus when location and time information were available. Colleges and universities began to significantly fuel the spread of the virus during the week of Sept. 11 when officials recorded four such outbreaks – the first of 20 that month.

September has thus far been the peak for the spread of cases initiated by college and university community members, with the week of Sept. 25 accounting for 12 outbreaks, the most recorded in one week during the entire study period.

Officials said school buildings, restaurants, bars and child care facilities also account for a large share of outbreaks in the city. School buildings have hosted 19 outbreaks, while child care centers and a grouping of both restaurants and bars have sparked 15 outbreaks each, according to the guide.

Though the guide reports that college and university outbreaks ceased from Oct. 9 through early November, they have since resumed with one outbreak the week of Nov. 13 and two outbreaks the week of Nov. 20.

This story has been updated to clarify the following:
This post has been updated to clarify that the reported cases may not originate at the site of an “outbreak,” which is defined as constituting two or more cases at a certain location within a 14-day period.

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