SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence in a University Community: A Longitudinal Study of the Impact of Student Return to Campus on Infection Risk Among Community Members.


In this prospective longitudinal cohort study, we tested for IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in a non-random cohort of residents living in Centre County prior to the Fall 2020 term at the Pennsylvania State University and following the conclusion of the Fall 2020 term. We also report the seroprevalence in a non-random cohort of students collected at the end of the Fall 2020 term.

Of 345 community participants, 19 (5·5%) were positive for SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies at their first visit between 7 August and 2 October. Of 625 student participants who returned to campus for fall instruction, 195 (31·2%) were positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies between 26 October and 23 November. Twenty-eight (8·1%) community participants returned a positive IgG antibody result by 9 December. Only contact with known SARS-CoV-2-positive individuals and attendance at small gatherings (20-50 individuals) were significant predictors of detecting IgG antibodies among returning students (aOR, 95% CI: 3·24, 2·14-4·91; 1·62, 1·08-2·44; respectively).

The Pennsylvania State University Office of the Provost, Social Science Research Institute, Huck Institute for the Life Sciences, and Clinical and Translational Science Institute; National Institutes of Health.

The influx of students into college and university towns reflects a significant increase in population size and density that could result in increases in COVID-19 risk in surrounding communities. Despite the potential risk, it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 transmission may lag behind in surrounding communities This implies the potential to minimize the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from high prevalence sub-populations with targeted interventions. Future work should investigate the relative efficacy of specific measures to reduce risk of transmission between subpopulations and guide communities with high levels of episodic migration and similar high-density subpopulations.

Returning university students represent large-scale, transient demographic shifts and a potential source of transmission to adjacent communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite high seroprevalence observed within the student population, seroprevalence in a longitudinal cohort of community residents was low and stable from before student arrival for the Fall 2020 term to after student departure. The study implies that heterogeneity in SARS-CoV-2 transmission can occur in geographically coincident populations.

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