Spring break cases show importance of contact tracing

Many colleges and universities have announced plans to resume campus instruction or stick with distance learning in the fall, and a study today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows the important role contact tracing plays on college campuses to contain future COVID-19 outbreaks.

The study follows a COVID-19 outbreak among University of Texas-Austin students who contracted the virus during a spring break trip from Mar 14 to Mar 19. Officials identified 64 cases, including 60 cases among 183 travelers, 1 among 13 household contacts, and 3 among 35 community contacts. A total of 231 people were tested for the virus.

Approximately one fifth of persons with positive test results were asymptomatic (symptom-free). Only testing symptomatic contacts would have missed a significant percentage of cases, the authors said.

“As schools and universities make decisions about reopening, it is important that they plan for isolating and testing persons with suspected COVID-19, quarantining their contacts, and implementing suggestions described in CDC’s Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education,” the authors concluded.