Colleges and Universities are not driving the negative trends in cases and hospitalizations from Covid in Massachusetts. In fact, testing positivity rates for colleges are significantly below that for the state as a whole, and higher education testing is helping to keep positivity rates in check.
Table 1 shows updated cumulative testing and positive test percentages for twelve greater Boston area colleges and UMass Amherst through the end of last week. (This is an updated version of the table from an earlier post https://www.masscoronavirus.net/college-and-university-testing-in-massachusetts/).
|Table 1: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing|
|Cumulative Testing Results|
|October 4, 2020|
Overall positivity rates remain very low, with cumulative rates above 0.1% only for Boston College, Suffolk, and UMass Amherst. Boston College appears to have brought its earlier small outbreak under control. Table 2 shows testing and positivity figures for the past week.
|Table 2: Greater Boston Area College Covid Testing|
|Latest Weekly Results|
|October 4, 2020|
|As Of||Daily||Positive||Positive Test|
Note that the tests are shown on a daily basis so they can be compared across schools, but positive tests are for the entire prior week. This table does point out the recent outbreak at UMass Amherst, at which cases began increasing on September 22nd. Cases at UMass Amherst have increased even more over the past week. Otherwise, positivity rates remain low.
The state has provided aggregate information on higher education testing for the past several weeks in its weekly public health reports. Figure 1 shows the average number of daily tests performed for higher education purposes relative to the total number of tests statewide from September 1st to 27th. (Note that this report lags the data presented in Tables 1 and 2 by about a week, because of state reporting lags).
Figure 1 shows that higher education testing since September 1 has been slightly more than half of the testing in the entire state, indicating that higher education testing is now the most significant testing driver statewide. Over this period, higher education testing positivity rates have ranged between 0.05% and 0.11%. Because it is likely that much of the testing in higher education is repeated testing of the same individuals, these rates should probably be compared to the repeat tester rates statewide (which has been steady at 0.2% for several weeks). This indicates that test and case positivity rates outside of higher education are actually higher than they appear at first glance from the published statewide numbers. In fact, statewide test positivity rates outside of higher education ranged between 1.6% and 1.9%, compared to the 0.8% and 0.9% overall figure during September.
One last point. The thirteen institutions highlighted in Tables 1 and 2 appear to be doing most of the higher education testing statewide. Adjusting for the lag in reporting at the state level and the individual college level, over 70% of the higher education tests and 65% of the higher education positive tests are associated with those thirteen schools.