CDC publishes paper describing Notre Dame’s successful response to early surge in COVID-19 cases on campus

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Main Building (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Main Building (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report today describing the University of Notre Dame’s swift and successful response to a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus soon after the fall 2020 semester began, concluding that outbreaks can be addressed by using a combination of testing, contact tracing, robust data systems, effective education efforts and other strategies.

Developed in collaboration with the CDC, the report was written by St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox and three leaders of Notre Dame’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. They detail the University’s preparation for the return of students in August for in-person learning, the dramatic increase in cases during the first 10 days of classes, the decision to keep students on campus but to restrict interaction and teach only online for two weeks, and the robust mitigation measures taken that allowed a resumption of in-person learning after the pause.

The authors wrote: “Immediate, aggressive efforts to decrease disease transmission through enhanced testing, timely contact tracing, ensuring adequate isolation and quarantine space, expansion of asymptomatic screening, and communication promoting adherence to mitigation strategies can help control COVID-19 outbreaks while continuing in-person instruction. This approach is consistent with recommendations for universities with outbreaks to not send students home, to avoid seeding infections into the local or other communities.”

Notre Dame’s timely response resulted in the seven-day rolling average of new cases dropping from 53 to five per day.

The report refers to Notre Dame as “University A, a midwestern U.S. university.” Fox and his co-authors suggest that the strategies Notre Dame adopted in August “might prove useful to other colleges (of similar size to Notre Dame) that are responding to campus outbreaks.”

In recognition of the financial pressures facing most colleges and universities, the authors wrote that the Bayesian approach to surveillance testing that Notre Dame implemented in the fall semester, in which all students were tested regularly and some students were tested more often based on patterns in the case data, “might be more feasible for resource-constrained institutions.”

Joining Fox as co-authors were Notre Dame’s David Bailey, vice president for strategic planning and institutional research; Marie Lynn Miranda, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost; and Mike Seamon, vice president for campus safety and University operations.

The paper was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, often called “the voice of the CDC” and the agency’s primary vehicle for scientific publication of timely, reliable, authoritative, accurate, objective and useful public health information and recommendations.