A group of University of Texas college students travelled en masse to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for spring break – and 64 of them returned infected with coronavirus, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report reveals.
The Texas group, dubbed Cabo 211, was by no means the only set of spring breakers to ignore health warnings and contract coronavirus, but they were the largest.
From a public health standpoint, the group is evidence of just how easily people with no symptoms of coronavirus – like one fifth of the Cabo 211 group – can spread the infection.
Coronavirus continued to spread among the college students even after their return to Austin, where many lived together, or at least shared facilities and social activities.
The report ‘highlights the importance of universities and schools considering how to align students’ living arrangements with CDC recommendations for living in shared housing as they plan to reopen,’ the officials warned.
The first students developed symptoms while in Cabo San Lucas, and between March 27 and 28, three tested positive back in Austin. By April, the outbreak had spread to four people who had not been on the ill-fated trip, a CDC graph shows
In addition to the infamous 211 students who travelled to Cabo San Lucas between March 14 and 19, the CDC included another 20 people in their report – likely close contacts of the travelling students who may have been exposed back in Austin.
The first student was tested for coronavirus on March 27 after developing a cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.
The day after that person’s test came back positive, another two students turned up with similar symptoms and tested positive.
Word was sent to the University of Texas Health Austin that they might have an outbreak on their hands.
In the days that followed, the positive coronavirus tests stacked up.
Of 183 of the travelers who were tested, 60 were positive for the viral infection, meaning that more than 28 percent of the students on the trip contracted coronavirus.
One person who lived with one of the Cabo 211 was infected, as were three other people who had come into contact with the Cabo travellers.
The CDC investigation found that one fifth of the students were asymptomatic.
School and local officials jumped into action to find and test all the contacts of the infected travelers, including other people on their flights, family members and students they’d seen back on campus.
Coronavirus outbreaks among young people, like the UT students, can pose a particular challenge to public health officials’ attempts to contain them because younger people are less likely to have obvious symptoms and more likely to have many social contacts.
Swift contact tracing almost entirely contained to the students who went on the trip. But some students hit out at the university, claiming that UT would not tell them where the Cabo 211 had been since returning to campus.
But the CDC warns that universities and colleges need to be prepared to do the same – potentially on a much larger scale – if they decide to allow students back on campus in the fall.
‘A coordinated response with contact tracing and testing of all contacts, including those who are asymptomatic, is important in controlling future COVID-19 outbreaks that might occur as schools and universities consider reopening’ the agency investigators wrote.
Fortunately, none of the students – all of whom were in their 20s – had to be hospitalized, and none died as a result of the Cabo trip outbreak.
But the students and UT certainly suffered backlash from their peers, strangers, health authorities, and even warning to be careful Matthew McConaughey.
CABO 211 AND UT SORORITY FACED BACKLASH OVER THE SPRING BREAK TRIP THAT LED TO A COVID-19 OUTBREAK
Parents and students defended the university and its students against harsh responses they have received since a spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas left 53 people infected with coronavirus.
Supporters have responded to critics and threatened to call the cops on anyone who has targeted the group with angry messages on social media.
In total 211 students, all in their 20s, traveled to Cabo San Lucas between March 14 and March 19 using both private and commercial flights.
The university’s West Campus outside of Austin is now a coronavirus hotspot after it was announced that the trip had resulted in (at the time) 53 infections.
Actor Matthew McConaughey recorded a video urging the students to place themselves into quarantine and saying he was ‘sorry you’ve got these responsibilities on you at this time’.
A University of Texas student commented on this picture of a sorority sister who went on Spring Break to Cabo criticizing the decision to do so. The sorority member’s mother contacted the student to inform them she told the police about the comment and that none of the sorority had tested positive for coronavirus or chartered a plane to Mexico
The University of Texas had canceled classes on March 13 and instruction resumed online after Spring Break.
By the time the UT students headed to Cabo, not only had the campus been shut down and all programs abroad canceled but the City of Austin had already declared a local state of emergency.
Within two weeks of their return, the university’s west campus was identified as a hotspot and harsh criticism was left under the social media posts from the students’ vacation.
Students who remained at home or had canceled their Spring Break plans were angered as the outbreak worsened because of the actions of other students.
University of Texas professor and actor Matthew McConaughey intervened as the heated debate continued, posting a video on April 2, just after it first emerged that students on the trip were beginning to test positive.
‘The youth in the city of Austin, all the students at the University of Texas, the virus has come on and you’ve been asked to grow up sooner than you thought you were going to have to,’ he said.
‘You’ve had responsibilities laid on your lap that you didn’t bargain for. You just went off to Spring Break, you got back with a tan, you feel great. What’s wrong with that? Not blaming any of that.
‘But no matter how good you feel right now, stay home if you can. I’m sorry you’ve got these responsibilities on you at this time,’ he added.
‘It’s an unprecedented time in all our lives but face the facts that they’re here. This is a science-fiction film no more. It’s reality, man. Deal with it. Please, we need you to and you need us to. Please.’
This tweet claimed the sorority house was spay painted with ‘eat the rich’
University of Texas professor and actor Matthew McConaughey published this video on April 2 in which he urged the students who went on the trip to stay home
Other students complained on social media that the group sparked an outbreak on campus
Other UT students were frustrated that not enough information was being provided over where the Cabo 211 traveled to after their trip.
‘As a UT student I can tell UT will answer none of these questions,’ one wrote.
‘All we got was a flimsy email saying they traveled back to different locations in the US…. but now 78705 is a COVID-19 hotspot so clearly some of them are back in West Campus.’
One detailed Twitter thread identified the impact the spring breakers could have and the harm their four-day trip could cause, stating that students were warned about the dangers of coronavirus and so ‘playing dumb isn’t gonna cut it’.
‘CABO44 potentially infected more than a million (1,049,041) people,’ they said, using figures from earlier reports that 44 were infected.
‘But how big is that you ask? The city of Austin has a population of 950,254. So pretty huge.
‘So remember your fun spring break potentially put a million people at risk. So quit complaining about cyberbullying cause going on that trip was beyond irresponsible and stay at home for gods sake.
‘Also your Instagram pictures sucked,’ they added.
On Twitter user broke down the projected coronavirus impact of the group’s trip
The Twitter user explained how many people they could have now infected
A hunt immediately began to track down which students were involved after their return.
‘UT twitter on another level, they found out everyone’s names and affiliations in less than a day…’ one Twitter user wrote.
In particular, criticism was leveled against the University of Texas branch of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, members of which are believed to be among the students that traveled.
Members had posted pictures using the hashtag #springbreak to the account.
‘When stories came out about students on a chartered plane to Cabo, everyone was like, “Who the hell are these people?”‘ one student told Vice.
‘And then someone was like, “Hey, Texas Theta just posted all these pictures from Cabo… It’s them!”‘
‘We had a lot of students who canceled spring break trips; I canceled mine. It seemed very clear that we shouldn’t be flying, for our own safety as much as other people’s safety. Seeing those Instagram pictures of people in Cabo, it’s just like, compounding the issue.’
The sorority’s social media accounts have been made private after an influx of comments on their postings.
One tweet has even claimed that ‘eat the rich’ was spray painted onto the wall of the Texas Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house.
Social media users were quick to hunt down the students who were on the Mexico trip
This Twitter user was contacted by a parent of a sorority member after this tweet. She claimed that she had contacted the police and that the sorority was not involved in the outbreak
The online conflict escalated as the spring breakers began to answer back with at least one parent sending threatening messages to other young people posting about their child.
There was uproar in mid-March as spring breakers defied warnings issued about spread of coronavirus and continued on their traditional party holidays to locations like Mexico and Florida.
Many of the students appeared to believe that they could not catch coronavirus because they are young. Not only can coronavirus hit a person of any age but anyone can be a carrier and increase the spread.
There have been other outbreaks among spring breakers from the University of Tampa and the University of Wisconsin-Madison after their own trips.
Officials at the University of Texas say a total of 83 students at the university have tested positive or have been presumed positive for COVID-19.
Eight employees have also tested positive for the disease.
DailyMail.com reached out to the university and the Austin Police Department for comment but a representative was not available.