The 10 biggest coronavirus outbreaks on college campuses across the US since the fall semester began

ohio state university move in coronavirus
Incoming students began moving in on the Ohio State University campus on August 13, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio.
  • Colleges across the US are seeing thousands of new coronavirus cases as students and faculty return to campus for the fall semester.
  • The University of Georgia, University of Alabama, and Ohio State University have some of the largest campus outbreaks to date.
  • Business Insider took a closer look at 10 colleges with significant coronavirus outbreaks.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Coronavirus outbreaks are cropping up on college campuses across the US as students arrive for the fall semester.

Many schools have switched to virtual learning plans, with some requesting that students don't come to campus at all. But for other college communities, it's too late.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned colleges not to send students home if they're already experiencing a campus outbreak. Most of the schools on this list remain open with some in-person classes. 

Business Insider took a closer look at the timelines of 10 of the largest campus coronavirus outbreaks since the fall semester began.

1. University of Georgia

The University of Georgia has tallied 2,588 positive COVID-19 test results since reopening August 10, according to data from the school's self-reporting tool, DawgCheck. More than half of those results — 1,417 new positives — were reported during the first week of September.

Of that week's test results, only 15 came from university employees and the rest came from UGA students. Members of sororities and fraternities have come under fire for posting maskless photos and hosting events despite the rapid spread of the coronavirus on campus, according to student newspaper The Red & Black.

Despite the rising case counts and pushback from faculty, the university continues to hold mostly in-person classes, which began August 20.

Including cases counted between March and August, UGA has seen 3,045 total positive test results throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The university's testing data for the week of September 7 was still pending at the time of publication, so the total case count to date is likely higher.

University of alabama bars coronavirus
People line up outside to wait for limited access indoors to order food from Taco Mama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on August 15, 2020.

2. University of Alabama

Many of the campus outbreaks so far have taken place in the South, with another large one occurring at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The school has reported 2,378 positive COVID-19 tests among students, faculty, and staff since hybrid classes started on August 19.

After the case count increased by more than 500 during the first week of class and students were caught bar-hopping on social media, the university coordinated with the city of Tuscaloosa to close local bars for two weeks. The bars reopened at half capacity on Tuesday.

The week of August 28 saw an even greater spike, with 846 new student positives, but university officials have boasted a decline in positive test results since then. The most recent week of data available, September 4-10, included 294 student positives.

3. Ohio State University

Ohio State University has reported 2,286 positive COVID-19 tests on campus, including 2,253 student positives since August 14 and 33 employee positives since August 1.

The university has taken a firm stance on student partying, temporarily suspending 228 students who broke social gathering guidelines before classes even started. Fall semester classes began August 25, with some classes of less than 50 students taking place in person and others meeting online.

Like many other colleges, OSU had their highest weekly positive total to date during the first week of September — just after their classes kicked off — with more than 1,000 student positive tests reported in one week.

university of south carolina move in
Students move in at the University of South Carolina.

4. University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina has seen at least 2,108 unique cases of COVID-19 since August 1, including 2,074 students and 34 university employees.

Despite nearly 8% of the student body testing positive in the past month and a half, the campus remains on "low alert" according to its data dashboard. The campus alert level is determined by factors such as testing, active cases on campus, and quarantine preparedness.

The university's president attributed the spike in cases to a combination of extensive testing and off-campus social activities.

"There's a lot of schools out there that have the same sort of student behavior ours is but they're just not testing," University President Bob Caslen told WIS News in early September.

But the school's testing has since been compromised, according to an email that went out to students and staff September 4 and was obtained by VICE. After a key staffer in the on-campus saliva testing lab became ill, the lab was temporarily suspended and permanently compromised. It went from testing and processing 1,200 students per day to 200 per day, likely affecting the case totals displayed on the school's data dashboard.

5. University of Iowa

In an update posted September 14, the University of Iowa reported 1,831 cases of COVID-19 since August 18, according to student and employee self-reports.

Only 27 of those cases were university employees, with the other 1,804 cases coming from the student population. That means about one in 18 students have reported testing positive, according to a tweet by UIowa Sickout, a group of students and faculty calling in sick to demand 100% online instruction.

The group is hosting their second "sickout" protest this month, this time working in conjunction with Iowa State University and encouraging participants to contact administrators. The first "sickout" took place September 2 and involved over 900 UIowa students and faculty members calling in sick, according to a now-defunct Facebook page.

The university continues to offer a combination of in-person and online classes, which began August 24.

university of illinois saliva test
A COVID-19 saliva sample is collected as testing is conducted on July 7, 2020, in a tent on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.

6. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has reported 1,760 cases of COVID-19, according to a New York Times initiative to track outbreaks on college campuses.

The school's testing data dashboard does not include a total number of positive tests, instead noting daily new cases detected by an extensive saliva testing initiative. The university tests more than 10,000 students on an average day, accounting for at least 20% of testing in the state of Illinois.

Students on campus are required to get tested twice a week and produce negative test results to access university buildings. But even strict testing guidelines can't keep students from partying.

The case count spiked around August 31, when there were 230 new cases detected in a single day, and the administration took note. Starting September 2, the school instituted a two-week lockdown during which students are prohibited from gathering in groups and leaving their residences for non-essential activities.

7. Illinois State University

Illinois State University, has reported 1,385 positive COVID-19 tests since classes began August 17, according to the school's campus case tracker

Cases were at a high the week of August 31, when the campus community turned up 770 positives in 7 days.

The majority of Illinois State students live off campus and are allowed to quarantine in their residences if they test positive, according the media relations director Eric Jome. 

But the administration has asked students living in residence halls to return home to quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19, despite Fauci's recent warning. The school is reserving some on-campus housing for students who need to isolate but cannot return home.

8. University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky has reported 1,360 cases of COVID-19 among students since July 20. 

All students coming to campus were required to get tested between August 3 and August 22. Based on those initial results, the university required certain groups — namely students in Greek life — to get retested due to higher positivity rates among those groups.

As of September 11, 424 cases were considered active, meaning the students are currently in isolation. Only 93 of those students are quarantining in campus facilities or Greek residences, with the rest isolating off campus.

9. James Madison University

James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, Va., has reported 1,349 cases of COVID-19 among students and 9 additional self-reported staff cases since July 1. About 1,000 of those cases have since been reported as recovered.

Cases spiked during the first week of class, which began August 26. After more than 500 students tested positive and isolation beds quickly filled up, the university decided to switch from a hybrid learning model to entirely online classes by September 7. 

In an announcement published September 1, the university president asked all students to return home by Labor Day. Some students with exemptions were permitted to remain on campus.

The university plans to revisit the possibility of reopening campus and returning to some in-person instruction at the end of the month.

testing at university of dayton
Premier Health starts a drive through Coronavirus testing site at the University of Dayton on March 17, 2020.

10. University of Dayton

The University of Dayton, located in Dayton, Ohio, is home to one of the largest outbreaks in the Midwest despite having a relatively small student body.

The university has reported 1,211 cases of COVID-19 in students since case tracking was implemented August 10. With just over 8,600 undergraduates enrolled, that means about 14% of the student population has tested positive.

The campus alert level climbed from "yellow - caution" to "red - warning" in the first week of the fall semester, which began August 24. Consequently, the first few weeks of classes were conducted remotely, although campus remained open.

The alert level returned to yellow as of September 11, and some in-person instruction will resume September 16.

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