JUE Insight: College Student Travel Contributed to Local COVID-19 Spread
35 Pages Posted: 21 May 2020 Last revised: 5 Dec 2020
Date Written: November 17, 2020
Due to the suspension of in-person classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students at universities with earlier spring breaks traveled and returned to campus while those with later spring breaks largely did not. We use variation in academic calendars to study how travel affected the evolution of COVID-19 cases and mortality. Estimates imply that counties with more early spring break students had a higher growth rate of cases than counties with fewer early spring break students. The increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after spring break. Effects are larger for universities with students more likely to travel through airports, to New York City, and to popular Florida destinations. Consistent with secondary spread to more vulnerable populations, we find a delayed increase in mortality growth rates. Lastly, we present evidence that viral infection transmission due to college student travel also occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keywords: COVID-19, higher education, externalities, mobility
JEL Classification: H40, I10, I23, R40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation