Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 incidence and seroconversion among university students and employees: A longitudinal cohort study in California, June-August 2020

Lauren A. Hunter, Stacia Wyman, Laura J. Packel, Shelley N. Facente, Yi Li, Anna Harte, Guy Nicolette, Clara Di Germanio, Michael P. Busch, Arthur L. Reingold, Maya L. Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives To identify incident SARS-CoV-2 infections and inform effective mitigation strategies in university settings, we piloted an integrated symptom and exposure monitoring and testing system among a cohort of university students and employees. Design Prospective cohort study. Setting A public university in California from June to August 2020. Participants 2180 university students and 738 university employees. Primary outcome measures At baseline and endline, we tested participants for active SARS-CoV-2 infection via quantitative PCR (qPCR) test and collected blood samples for antibody testing. Participants received notifications to complete additional qPCR tests throughout the study if they reported symptoms or exposures in daily surveys or were selected for surveillance testing. Viral whole genome sequencing was performed on positive qPCR samples, and phylogenetic trees were constructed with these genomes and external genomes. Results Over the study period, 57 students (2.6%) and 3 employees (0.4%) were diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection via qPCR test. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that a super-spreader event among undergraduates in congregate housing accounted for at least 48% of cases among study participants but did not spread beyond campus. Test positivity was higher among participants who self-reported symptoms (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 12.7; 95% CI 7.4 to 21.8) or had household exposures (IRR 10.3; 95% CI 4.8 to 22.0) that triggered notifications to test. Most (91%) participants with newly identified antibodies at endline had been diagnosed with incident infection via qPCR test during the study. Conclusions Our findings suggest that integrated monitoring systems can successfully identify and link at-risk students to SARS-CoV-2 testing. As the study took place before the evolution of highly transmissible variants and widespread availability of vaccines and rapid antigen tests, further research is necessary to adapt and evaluate similar systems in the present context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere063999
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 6 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • Infection control
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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