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SARS-CoV-2 Variant Tracking and Mitigation During In-Person Learning at a Midwestern University in the 2020-2021 School Year

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Version 2 2024-06-03, 16:41
Version 1 2023-12-08, 17:45
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posted on 2024-06-03, 16:41 authored by Aaron Lilienfeld AsbunAaron Lilienfeld Asbun, Carolina Avendano, Joseph Sarro, Liz Rulli, Marie Lynn MirandaMarie Lynn Miranda, Melissa Stephens, Michael E. Pfrender, Wendy Barrios
Importance: The COVID-19 pandemic led many higher education institutions to close campuses during the 2020-2021 academic year. As campuses prepared for a return to in-person education, many institutions were mandating vaccines for students and considering the same for faculty and staff. Objective: To determine the association between vaccination coverage and the levels and spread of SARS-CoV-2, even in the presence of highly-transmissible variants and congregate living, at a midsized university in the US. Design, Setting, and Participants: This case series was conducted at a midsized Midwestern university during the spring 2021 semester. The university developed a saliva-based surveillance program capable of high-throughput SARS-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction testing and genomic sequencing with the capacity to deliver results in less than 24 hours. On April 7, 2021, the university announced a vaccine requirement for all students for the fall 2021 semester and announced the same requirement for faculty and staff on May 20, 2021. The university hosted an onsite mass vaccination clinic using the 2-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during April 8 to 15 and April 29 to May 6, 2021. Data were analyzed for 14 894 individuals from the university population who were tested for COVID-19 on campus from January 6 to May 20, 2021. Main Outcomes and Measures: Positive SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis was confirmed by quantitative reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction of saliva specimens, and variant identity was assessed by quantitative reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction and next-generation sequencing of viral genomes. Results: Between January 6 and May 20, 2021, the university conducted 196 185 COVID-19 tests for 14 894 individuals and identified 1603 positive cases. Within those positive cases, 950 individuals (59.3%) were male, 644 (40.2%) were female, 1426 (89.0%) were students, and 1265 (78.9%) were aged 17 to 22 years. Among the 1603 positive cases, 687 were identified via polymerase chain reaction of saliva specimens. The Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant constituted 218 of the 446 total positives sequenced (48.9%). By May 20, 2021, 10 068 of 11 091 students (90.8%), 814 of 883 faculty (92.2%), and 2081 of 2890 staff (72.0%) were vaccinated. The 7-day rolling average of positive cases peaked at 37 cases on February 17 but declined to zero by May 14, 2021. The 7-day moving average of positive cases was inversely associated with cumulative vaccination coverage, with a statistically significant Pearson correlation coefficient of −0.57 (95% CI, −0.68 to −0.44). Conclusions and Relevance: This case series study elucidated the association of a robust vaccination program with a statistically significant decrease in positive COVID-19 cases among the study population even in the presence of highly transmissible variants and congregate living.

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