IU researchers recently conducted a study on the safety of IU’s in-person instruction by comparing IU’s positive COVID-19 data and the amount of in-person credit hours students took this semester.
The study showed that students who took more in-person credit hours were less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than other students with fewer in-person credit hours, Lana Dbeibo, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the IU School of Medicine and part of IU’s Medical Response Team, said. The analysis started around two months ago, she said.
Dbeibo said researchers expected if classrooms were increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, students who spend more time in a classroom would be more likely to be infected with COVID-19. Researchers found the opposite trend in the study, she said.
“That doesn’t mean that being in classrooms is protective, because there's a lot of other factors that come into play to make your risk lower,” Dbeibo said. “What that means is that being in a classroom does not increase your risk of getting the infection.”
Molly Rosenberg, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and part of IU’s Mitigation Testing Team, said there is no concrete evidence to support an explanation for the trend, but there is some speculation.
Students who take more in-person classes may behave differently by taking less risks in their social life and being more cautious, Rosenberg said. Another idea is that being in class replaces time students spend elsewhere, she said.
“The time that you spend in classrooms could potentially be displacing time that you would be spending in risky situations,” Rosenberg said.
Dbeibo said IU students typically abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in class, such as social distancing and wearing a mask.
“If you are studying in your house with your friends or your roommates, you are probably spending a lot more time unmasked and not distancing,” she said. “There is a potential that these rules that are set inside the class are putting you at lower risk of infection. There are a lot of other possibilities.”
Data was taken from the undergraduate populations on IU-Bloomington, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU regional campuses, Rosenberg said. The date range was from Aug. 24 to the end of October.
The Bloomington campus had a higher infection rate, being the largest campus, Dbeibo said. Rosenberg said that although Bloomington had the highest rate, an analysis of the datashowed the same trend as the IU campuses overall.
Dbeibo said the researchers will continue to monitor data for changes in trends. She said researchers will likely expect the same trend if the conditions and situation are the same.
“We can’t promise that the results will be the same,” Dbeibo said. “What I can promise is that we will keep an eye on these results.”