The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is among the worst in recent history, resulting in excess of 520,000,000 cases and 6,200,000 deaths worldwide. The United States (U.S.) has recently surpassed 1,000,000 deaths. Individuals who are elderly and/or immunocompromised are the most susceptible to serious sequelae. Rising sentiment often implicates younger, less-vulnerable populations as primary introducers of COVID-19 to communities, particularly around colleges and universities. Adjusting for more than 32 key socio-demographic, economic, and epidemiologic variables, we (1) implemented regressions to determine the overall community-level, age-adjusted COVID-19 case and mortality rate within each American county, and (2) performed a subgroup analysis among a sample of U.S. colleges and universities to identify any significant preliminary mitigation measures implemented during the fall 2020 semester. From January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021, a total of 22,385,335 cases and 374,130 deaths were reported to the CDC. Overall, counties with increasing numbers of university enrollment showed significantly lower case rates and marginal decreases in mortality rates. County-level population demographics, and not university level mitigation measures, were the most significant predictor of adjusted COVID-19 case rates. Contrary to common sentiment, our findings demonstrate that counties with high university enrollments may be more adherent to public safety measures and vaccinations, likely contributing to safer communities.
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