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The Centers for Disease Control is citing the response to an early outbreak of COVID-19 in a group of University of Texas students who traveled together to Mexico as an example of how to handle similar clusters in the future.


The students left for Cabo San Lucas just one day after Travis County reported its first COVID-19 case. Upon return, about a third of them—60 total—tested positive for the disease and infected at least four other people.

The outbreak "among a young, healthy population with no or mild symptoms" was ultimately controlled "with a coordinated public health response that included rapid contact tracing and testing of all exposed persons," according to a CDC analysis published today.

The CDC believes this model may help contain future COVID-19 outbreaks as schools plan to reopen.

The UT Health Austin COVID-19 Center, a multidisciplinary team established in early March to help with the university's pandemic response, investigated the cluster and trained medical students, public health students, and clinical and research staff members to trace contacts and help coordinate testing for those who qualified.

Other actions—including a municipal shelter-in-place order issued in late March and UT-Austin's weeklong transition to remote learning—helped limit the spread of the disease, according to the study.

The study's authors recommend that schools and universities prepare for similar outbreaks.

"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 reopen," they wrote.

The efficacy of contract tracing, however, has diminished as the state of Texas continues its reopening.

"Right now, what happens when you call somebody who's a positive and you ask them where they've been over the past week, they've been everywhere," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a virtual press conference on Wednesday. "They've had contact with hundreds of people."

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