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COVID-19 outbreak linked to UT spring breakers mitigated by contact tracing, CDC report says

According to the report, 64 out of 231 people during the outbreak investigation tested positive for coronavirus.

AUSTIN, Texas — A new report from the CDC has shed some light on the investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak linked to a group of University of Texas students who went on a spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in March. 

According to the CDC report, a UT student tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27 after showing symptoms of a cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. The next day, March 28, two more symptomatic students tested positive, alerting the COVID-19 Center at the University of Texas Health Austin (UTHA) to a potential outbreak, the report stated. The report said UTHA started an outbreak investigation that same day. 

UTHA conducted contact tracing, which linked the students’ infections to a spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, from March 14 to March 19. 

During the course of the investigation, 231 people were tested for COVID-19, 183 of which were Cabo San Lucas travelers. According to the CDC report, 64 total people (28%) tested positive, and 60 of those 64 were Cabo San Lucas travelers. Thirteen household contacts (i.e., someone who did not travel to Cabo San Lucas but lived with a Cabo San Lucas traveler who had a positive test result) were tested throughout the investigation and one of those 13 people tested positive. Thirty-five community contacts (i.e., someone who did not travel to Cabo San Lucas but had close contact in a community setting to a Cabo San Lucas traveler who had a positive test result) were tested and three of those people tested positive. 

The CDC report said nearly 20% of the 64 people who tested positive were asymptomatic, no one was hospitalized and nobody died.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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In the report, the CDC indicated that "the COVID-19 outbreak among a young, healthy population with no or mild symptoms was controlled with a coordinated public health response that included rapid contact tracing and testing of all exposed persons," which the organization deemed important to controlling future COVID-19 outbreaks that might occur as schools and universities consider reopening.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A large number of the UT students who went to Cabo San Lucas booked their trip with JusCollege, KVUE reported.

In an email sent to travelers before the trip, JusCollege said Mexico had far fewer cases of COVID-19 than the U.S.

"We believe that our travel destinations remain among the safest and most enjoyable places in the world to visit right now," the email from JusCollege said.

In another email just before the scheduled trip, JusCollege told travelers its refund policy would not change "as we have already incurred significant costs related to the trip."

"We hope that you choose to enjoy your Spring Break with us – we're currently in our second week of Cabo and have had almost 5,000 travelers, all with no issues," JusCollege said.

Then, in an email four days after students returned, JusCollege alerted travelers to a student experiencing COVID-19 symptoms who tested positive and urged them to self-quarantine. In the email, JusCollege said it was in communication with university officials and medical staff.

On April 2, UT's West Campus was announced as a hot spot for COVID-19.

The neighborhood right next to the University of Texas campus is largely populated by college students and many of the students who traveled to Cabo San Lucas live there, KVUE reported

In the CDC report, it said that during contact tracing interviews, Cabo San Lucas travelers reported sharing housing in both Mexico and upon return to Austin. The proximity created by this shared housing likely contributed to the transmission through ongoing exposure and reexposure to COVID-19.

Finally, according to the CDC report, the UTHA COVID-19 investigation concluded on April 5 when the last symptomatic contacts received negative test results. 

The CDC stressed in its report that contact tracing and testing of close contacts, regardless of symptoms, is important in limiting spread, especially in young and healthy populations living in shared housing, and in controlling future COVID-19 outbreaks that might occur as schools and universities consider reopening.

For more information on the CDC's outbreak report, click here

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