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Study: COVID-19 cases rose after universities hosted NCAA 'March Madness'

By HealthDay News
Study: COVID-19 cases rose after universities hosted NCAA 'March Madness'
In counties with universities that hosted games during the NCAA's college basketball "March Madness" tournament, COVID-19 case numbers started increasing about a week later and stayed higher for about three weeks, researchers said in a new study. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

As basketball fans crammed into stadiums, U.S. counties with universities that hosted "March Madness" games saw a jump in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, new research shows.

"Counties that are home to universities that participated in NCAA March Madness saw a temporary increase in COVID-19 cases beginning eight days following the tournament and peaking 24 days after the tournament, relative to counties not involved in the tournament," said study co-author Ashley O'Donoghue. She's a research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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The link between large gatherings of unvaccinated people during the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament and an increase in COVID-19 cases was seen in both students and non-students, according to the study. The results were published Monday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

It's possible that universities that took part in March Madness were concerned about potential COVID-19 transmission and may have conducted more surveillance testing, resulting in more documented infections, O'Donoghue suggested.

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Even so, the study shows that social gatherings among unvaccinated university students are associated with increased COVID-19 infections.

This is important information as universities nationwide consider vaccination, masking and social distancing policies, according to the researchers.

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"While many universities have decided to implement vaccination mandates, not all universities have," O'Donoghue said in a medical center news release.

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"This study fills a gap in evidence on the risk of COVID-19 spread from social gatherings among unvaccinated university students. This suggests that vaccinations, surveillance testing of unvaccinated students, or other mitigation measures are still important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a university's community," O'Donoghue said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 and universities and colleges.

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RELATED Study: No COVID-19 outbreaks linked to low-attendance NFL, college games

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