Is 7-day quarantine enough for college students?

Researchers at the University of Kentucky say it may be after results of a testing study done on asymptomatic individuals over a 14-day period.
By: | December 17, 2020
University of Kentucky photo/Mark Cornelison

The University of Kentucky on Thursday released results from a study it conducted on COVID-19 testing methods that it says provides “direct evidence” that a seven-day quarantine window may be sufficient for university students who are asymptomatic.

Though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still recommends a 14-day period of quarantine for those who have been exposed to coronavirus and though the study is pending peer review, researchers say results of multiple tests done on quarantined individuals at UK shows “low risk” if they test negative just prior to being released after seven days.

In line with the UK researchers’ prospective guidance, the CDC last week released a statement that offers options to reduce quarantine. One of them, in fact, is a recommendation for seven days, as long as a final negative test appears in Day 5 or later for those who are asymptomatic.

However, the CDC does state that any decision on quarantines are determined by local health officials and depend on “local health conditions”. A university setting with strict testing protocols and safety measures – along with a largely younger population on campus – might provide an environment conductive to reducing quarantine time.

“This study supports the idea, consistent with CDC recommendations, that seven days of quarantine with a negative test may be an adequate quarantine period for young adults in the university setting,” said Jill Kolesar, administrative director of UK’s Precision Medicine Clinic and principal investigator of the study.

In its study, researchers from Kentucky’s Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Public HealthUK HealthCare, the Markey Cancer Center and UK HealthCorps collaborated on testing procedures for 90 asymptomatic students in quarantine. Positive results were found in 14 individuals. Seven of them came on Days 3 and 4, five came on Day 5 and two occurred on Day 7. There were no positive tests on days 10 or 14.

“The 16% positive rate supports the ongoing need to quarantine close contacts of COVID-19 cases, but this prospective study provides the first direct evidence that exposed asymptomatic students ages 18-44 years in a university setting are at low risk if released from quarantine at 7 days if they test negative PCR prior to release,” the authors concluded in the study, which was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Center Support Grant.

Aside from bringing together peers on campuses more quickly, Kolesar said one of the many reasons colleges and universities want a faster turnaround for those in quarantine is the wellbeing of students.

“Isolation, including a prolonged quarantine, may have significant negative impacts on college students’ mental health,” Kolesar said. “Shortening that window could be beneficial for our students. We hope our study helps institutions make decisions, along with CDC guidelines and guidance from local public health departments, as they consider the potential risk of shorter quarantine periods, student wellbeing, and consideration of local circumstances in this evolving pandemic.”