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How colleges can prevent 96% of COVID-19 infections: Case Western Reserve researcher co-authors new study

Masks, social distancing and routine testing are the key components to making college campuses more safe amid the pandemic, the study reveals.

CLEVELAND — We’ve heard for months now that wearing a mask, maintaining enough physical distancing and doing routine testing can make a difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The results of a new study, which were released Wednesday morning, show those strategies could prevent 96% of new infections on college campuses.

The study, which is co-authored by a Case Western Reserve University researcher, found that a combination of just two of those measures -- distancing and mandatory masks -- prevents 87% of campus spread.

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“While some measures are highly effective, implementing them is entirely up to each college’s financial situation, which may have already become strained because of the pandemic,” said Pooyan Kazemian, co-senior author of the study and an assistant professor of operations at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve. “It is clear that two common non-medical strategies are very effective and inexpensive -- and allow for some in-person instruction. While it’s true routine testing of the asymptomatic helps catch some infections early and reduce transmissions, they also pose the highest financial and operational burden, even if performed every 14 days.”

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The study also highlighted these findings:

  • About three of every four students -- and nearly one in six faculty -- would become infected over the semester in the absence of all mitigation efforts.
  • Minimal social distancing policies would only reduce infections by 16% in students.
  • While closing the campus and switching to online-only education would reduce infections by 63% among students, it would be less effective than opening the campus and implementing a mask-wearing and social distancing policy, which would reduce infections by 87% among students.