Post #1008: Gifts for the modern college student.

Posted on February 14, 2021

Short answer to the quiz above is the gist of this research that got published yesterday.  Popular writeup here, scholarly writeup here, and my summary of the evidence on flu seasonality in Post #894.

But it’s actually ASHRAE (heating and cooling engineers) who manage to get to the point in one simple graphic (Post #895).  Doesn’t it tell you something that you get better practical advice on this from engineers than from CDC.

Source:  2016 ASHRAE Handbook—HVAC Systems and Equipment (SI), Chapter 22:  Humidifiers.


This continues a series of posts in which I try to deal with my daughter being off at college during the pandemic.

As a parent, I try not to hover.  On the other hand, if it’s good enough for lab mice, it’s good enough for my daughter.  Or something.  Hence the humidifier.


Last semester, I decided that a) it was safer for her to be at William and Mary than at home in the community (Post #878) b) most of the “advice” on bringing your college student back home was just a bunch of people winging it, and that it was just plain irrational to quarantine my college student while I continued to (e.g.) grocery shop (post #898).  I even gave a little formula for figuring out the odds that your college student was going to bring an infection home to you.

This semester, even thought the COVID-19 infection numbers at William and Mary look awful compared to last semester, it’s still safer for my daughter to be there than to be “in the community”.  By “in the community”, I mean facing the odds of getting a diagnosed COVID-19 infection, for the average person age 21-30 in Virginia.

This semester, I upped my game and so I’m letting the “in the community” comparison track what’s actually happening in Virginia, for that age group.  Lagged by a dozen days or so, to account for typical lags between infection and reporting.  (I’m not 100% sure I’m actually doing the right thing with those lags, but the fact is, William and Mary tests and monitors continuously, and reports with a short turnaround.)

As of today, I’d say that William and Mary is doing neither better nor worse than the community rate.  Today, the score stands at:

  • Actual cases:  89
  • Expected cases:  96

There’s no obvious way for me to provide a rule-of-thumb for you to judge your student’s school’s performance.  But I can at least provide the current reference data for Virginia. 

If you have kids in a Virginia college, and you want a rough benchmark for how well your school is doing at suppressing spread of COVID-19, you can do the following:

  • Take the college on-campus enrollment
  • Divide by 100,000.
  • Multiply by the rate in this chart, for the relevant date.
  • Compare that to the daily number of actual new COVID-19 cases on campus.

I’m not crystal clear on which date would be relevant.  It depends on how much more rapidly your school is about finding and diagnosing cases, compared to people in the community.  Something near today’s date is the best I can say.

And you can’t lose sight of the fact that your school probably is doing campus-wide testing, and so they will find more cases, just due to that.

So you ought to look at this as something of a one-way test.  If your school is showing no more than the current community rate of new cases per day, then there is nothing out of the ordinary going on.  If, by contrast, they are showing several multiples of the community rate per day, you should start asking questions.

Quick rule of thumb?  If your Virginia college is showing something like six new cases per day, for every 10,000 of total enrollment (undergraduate and graduate), then that’s right in line with the current Virginia average for that age group.

Virginia, 21-30 year olds, seven-day moving average, new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 per day
Reference community rate/ 100K Reference community date
                  69 1/22/2021
                  68 1/23/2021
                  67 1/24/2021
                  63 1/25/2021
                  62 1/26/2021
                  62 1/27/2021
                  61 1/28/2021
                  62 1/29/2021
                  60 1/30/2021
                  60 1/31/2021
                  57 2/1/2021
                  55 2/2/2021
                  54 2/3/2021
                  53 2/4/2021
                  54 2/5/2021
                  55 2/6/2021
                  57 2/7/2021
                  57 2/8/2021
                  57 2/9/2021
                  57 2/10/2021
                  56 2/11/2021
                  57 2/12/2021
                  55 2/13/2021
                  54 2/14/2021

Source:  Calculated from Virginia Department of Health COVID data release dated 2/14/2021.


Finally, I’d like to point out the news coverage of this semester’s return to college.  Or the lack thereof.

Last year, the news was full of hyper-critical stories about college students returning to campus.  The huge risks.  The self-centeredness of that population.  The (almost 100% poorly-done) studies showing the huge COVID-19 loads they imposed on college towns.

And, of course, the endless comments sections in every news article, because anonymously venting one’s spleen in a public forum is America’s #1 pastime.  The less actual understanding the better, as that gives more scope for raw stupidity and hatred unchecked by any reference to the facts.

But this semester?  Crickets.  Against a remarkably higher background rate of COVID-19 infections, to boot.  I just searched using Google, and got two hits, on the same article, about colleges being (potential) superspreaders.  Which they concluded by looking at the 30 worst colleges in the country.  And even then resorted to “some colleges” and “as many as” so that they could cherry-pick the worst of the worst.

And yet, they got no traction.  Not this semester.  Go figure.  I guess with just about everybody’s kids making it back alive from last semester, and no obvious post-college-student-return “explosion” of cases, the story now lacks the essential elements needed for fear-based journalism.

So there’s more-or-less zero reporting.  ‘Cause there’s neither a boogeyman nor an obvious target for hatred.  This is the world we live in.