Officials of a Wisconsin college town are sounding the alarm after a rise in coronavirus cases among students in September was followed by a devastating increase in cases and deaths among nursing home residents.
“It was the very thing we worried about, and it has happened,” Tim Kabat, mayor of La Crosse, WI, told the Washington Post this week.
State coronavirus data showed that about 1,300 residents in La Crosse County had been diagnosed with the disease as of Aug. 31. Since then, cases have jumped to 3,961 overall. La Crosse-based cancer geneticist Paraic Kenny called the sequence of events “ completely, completely, completely predictable.”
“Everything we’ve known about this virus since January, everything we’ve known about 20-year-olds for the last 3,000 years — it’s predictable,” he added.
A new study, led by Kenny and has yet to be peer-reviewed, found genetic links between cases at nursing homes and large outbreaks among local students.
“Our study highlights the very significant risks imposed by college administrator reopening decisions, not just on college-associated populations, but on vulnerable individuals in surrounding communities,” the study concluded.
Prior to September, only one county resident had died from COVID-19. The county now has a total of 19 coronavirus deaths and everyone who has died has been over 60 years old, while15 were over 80, according to the report.
The town of La Crosse houses three colleges: University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, Viterbo University and Western Technical College. The spike in cases happened after students returned for fall classes.
The situation is not uncommon from what’s being seen across the rest of the country. A new report released this week by the American Health Care Association noted that cases in nursing homes are directly correlated to community spread.
College leaders have since implemented stricture measures, which included testing both on- and off-campus students and shutting down campuses for two weeks.
“We know what the stakes are, and we’re really taking it seriously,” said Joseph Gow, chancellor for the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.
“We would like to know: Do we have any students who are working in assisted-living and long-term care facilities?” he added. “And if they are, we would like them to come in immediately and get tested.”