College Campuses Make Up 19 Of The 25 Worst COVID Outbreaks In U.S.

by Leah Groth
Originally Published: 
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A new analysis of data finds 19 of the 25 hottest coronavirus outbreaks are occurring in college towns

The topic of whether or not to bring college students back for in-person classes has been heated for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer, as cases peaked in many areas of the country, many schools opted against welcoming students back to campus for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, in early August, many universities around the country did reopen and in the last several weeks there have been numerous large outbreaks across the country linked to these schools, and students have even been suspended for engaging in risky coronavirus behavior. And, even scarier, according to a new analysis of data, the majority of the large coronavirus outbreaks in the country are centralized in college towns.

USA Today analyzed data from Johns Hopkins University, finding that of the 25 hottest outbreaks in the country, “communities heavy with college students” (aka big college towns) represent 19 of these outbreak areas. To identify the hottest spots they looked at those regions with the highest number of per capita infection rates in the country — 1,053 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.

According to their findings, the 25 communities with the most COVID-19 cases per capita during the past two weeks are listed here alongside the college or university situated in the area, if any. As you can see, the majority of the list includes college campuses.

Harrisonburg, Virginia, James Madison University

Whitman County, Washington, Washington State University Coryell County, Texas, Central Texas College Bulloch County, Georgia, Georgia Southern University Story County, Iowa, Iowa State University Muskogee County, Oklahoma, None Clarke County, Georgia, University of Georgia Johnson County, Iowa, University of Iowa Lafayette County, Mississippi, University of Mississippi Grand Forks County, North Dakota, University of North Dakota Starr County, Texas, None Boone County, Missouri, University of Missouri-Columbia Riley County, Kansas, Kansas State University McLean County, Illinois Illinois State University Payne County, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University-Main Campus St. Francois County, Missouri, None Champaign County, Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Leon County, Florida, Florida State University Webb County, Texas, None Montgomery County, Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Lubbock County, Texas, Texas Tech University Pitt County, North Carolina, East Carolina University Coles County, Illinois, Eastern Illinois University Garfield County, Oklahoma, None Burleigh County, North Dakota, None

Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

Harrisonburg, Virginia — home of James Madison University — is currently leading the pack of the nation’s most significant outbreaks. According to USA Today, in just one week of classes, the college recorded over 700 COVID cases. On September 1 they changed course, pivoting to online instruction. However, the damage was done. In July, coronavirus infections in the city amounted to just 71 cases per 100,000 in July, and thanks to the school reopening, Harrisonburg is currently dealing with 1,562 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 — an overwhelming jump.

Now that school has already started and COVID is spreading through campus, administrators are in a bind.

Both Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force, have warned against sending kids back home from college. Why? It could propagate the spread even more.

“It’s the worst thing you can do,” Fauci pointed out during a recent interview with Today. “Keep them at the university in a place that’s sequestered enough from the other students.”

The situation at colleges and universities is so bad that the New York Times has devoted an entire infographic tracking the number of cases linked to them. Currently, there are over 88,000 cases at 1,190-plus schools across the country.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

This article was originally published on