Why NC State’s field-storming after beating Clemson didn’t become a COVID super-spreader

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The storming of the field at Carter-Finley Stadium last month after North Carolina State’s victory over Clemson did not lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, medical experts and a CBS17.com data analysis found.

“The gods were shining on us, right?” said Dr. Julie Casani, the school’s medical director for student health services. “In a variety of ways.”

Saturday marks four weeks since hundreds of mostly maskless students poured onto the field following the Wolfpack’s 27-21, double-overtime victory over the then-ninth-ranked Tigers on Sept. 25, not long after the surge driven by the delta variant peaked across the state.

That’s plenty of time for any super-spreading of COVID to show up in the numbers.

But it hasn’t happened. 

Just as it didn’t happen in Chapel Hill last winter when hundreds of UNC students spilled into Franklin Street to celebrate a men’s basketball victory over Duke. Or in other college towns across the country, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida said.

In fact, in Raleigh, the numbers have actually improved both on campus and across North Carolina since then.

Part of it, of course, was that the game was played outside and COVID-19 is known to spread more easily indoors.

“Certainly, outside is better than inside,” said Dr. Julie Swann, an expert in vaccine distribution at N.C. State. “Outside was about 20 times safer than inside, if that gives you some sense of that risk factor.”

It has also helped that the case numbers on campus have been relatively, and consistently, low.

“Not just after that event, but in general, the numbers are great,” Casani said.

On gameday, N.C. State — with an undergraduate enrollment of about 34,000 — was averaging just over five new cases a day. Since then, that number has dropped to three.

“First of all, you have to have people who are positive that are running out on the field,” Casani said. “Our rates have been low, and so we don’t have a lot of positive students to storm the field.”

Since that game, N.C. State has done roughly 17,000 tests on students — or about one for every two undergraduates. Among all tests of students, faculty and staff, just 0.7 percent of them have come back positive.

Meanwhile, the vaccination numbers have been high. The school says 82 percent of its community — including 79 percent of undergraduates — has either uploaded vaccine records or been fully vaccinated on campus. 

“If that same event had happened with a population that maybe only had 50 percent immunity,” Swann said, “I think we would see infections resulting from it.”

Those numbers have Casani optimistic about the rest of the season — and the rest of the semester.

“I think we were all hoping it, but I think in the back of our minds, yeah, we were a little nervous about it,” she said. “It makes me very optimistic that we’re all doing the right things.

“We’re getting vaccinated. We are being very aggressive with testing. … So people are doing the right things.”

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