Nearly 500 students at Massachusetts colleges and universities have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past month, according to new data released by the state.
For the first time, state health officials began reporting COVID-19 testing data from colleges and universities on Wednesday. The report included information from 59 higher education institutions that are testing on campus. The higher education data is in aggregate and not broken down by school.
The data showed that the number of new coronavirus cases among Massachusetts college students spiked on Sept. 8, with 57, followed by 40 the next day. That coincides with the return of many students to campus.
Overall, there were a total of 499 confirmed cases associated with higher education testing between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15. There were 168 cases confirmed in the past week alone, including 21 new cases on Monday.
The return of college students from around the world to the many campuses and college towns in Massachusetts has been the source of much concern in recent weeks, but Gov. Charlie Baker said this week that data his administration collects shows that colleges and their students "are doing their part" to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
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He said the state Department of Health's initial report was good news.
"Yesterday's initial report indicated that about half a million tests had been conducted as a part of this testing at higher ed institutions since August 15th and about 500 positive test cases resulted from those tests," the governor said of the results, which very roughly work out to a positive test rate of 0.1%. "That's a positive test rate that's obviously well below the statewide average and it shows that colleges and universities and students are doing their part to make sure that they open safely."
The statewide average of the positive test rate, measured on a rolling seven-day basis, was 0.8% as of Wednesday.
The Department of Public Health reported a total of 499 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts associated with higher education, including 168 that are new since last week.
As it has for other sectors, the Baker administration published guidelines and protocols for the reopening of colleges and universities, touching upon infection control, testing and isolation, hygiene, and more. The governor said he's "glad that so many schools are working hard to do the things that need to be done to implement these protocols and that probably has a lot to do with why we've seen such low rates of positive testing so far."
The next round of reporting from colleges and universities is expected next Wednesday. The department said data from additional colleges and universities will be added to the weekly report as they launch COVID-19 testing initiatives.
State House News Service contributed to this report.