A number of institutions of higher learning are already dealing with dangerous and disruptive coronavirus outbreaks shortly after reopening for in-person classes, with two large universities abruptly switching to remote learning this week.
The University of Notre Dame:
Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame announced it had canceled in-person classes for at least two weeks after reporting 80 newly confirmed coronavirus cases earlier in the day, up from 58 total cases the day before.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
On Monday, the state university’s chancellor and provost called off in-person classes for undergraduates. Within a week of its reopening, UNC reported four coronavirus clusters on the Chapel Hill campus: three in student dormitories, and one in an off-campus fraternity house.
University of Kentucky:
Through Thursday of last week, UK had reported 160 positive Covid-19 cases among students. The number was up to 189 as of Saturday. Yet, that total number is out of 17,285 tests, which translates to a positivity rate of 1.1%. The university currently plans to continue in-person learning, but with increased precautions. It has created nearly 35,000 signs encouraging social distancing and removed almost 10,000 chairs and furniture from classrooms to create added space. Some vending machines are selling hand sanitizer and masks.
East Carolina University:
The school has averaged about 30 new cases per week in August. It reported its first cluster in a dorm Monday evening. Dr. Ron Mitchelson, ECU’s interim chancellor, said ECU police and Greenville police were called to two dozen parties over the weekend.
Oklahoma State University:
Earlier this month, OSU conducted mandatory tests on all students before they could move into their residence halls, and 22 students tested positive. An entire sorority house is now under quarantine and isolation after school officials confirmed Saturday that 23 members of Pi Beta Phi tested positive for the coronavirus.
A total of 155 students have been quarantined in Loomis Hall after a student tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend, officials said Monday. According to the school’s website, the college’s plan for the start of the fall semester allows only first-year students to attend classes in-person while others participate in distance learning. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will be permitted to return to campus in late September.
Northeast Mississippi Community College:
A week after classes resumed August 3, the school’s president, Dr. Ricky G. Ford, said “around 300” students, roughly 10% of the entire student population, were in quarantine due to potential exposure to the virus. In addition, “about 25 to 28” of the college’s approximately 300 employees were in quarantine, according to Ford.
Western Kentucky University
WKU isn’t scheduled to open until August 24, but the University’s online dashboard, which was updated last Friday, is reporting a total of 206 positive COVID-19 cases within its broader campus community, including 175 students. In addition, 31 WKU faculty, staff or on-campus contractors have tested positive for Covid-19 since July 1, with five of those cases coming last week.
“The number of clusters is growing and soon could become out of control,” said Barbara Rimer, dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.”
How and when to safely reopen schools remains a hotly debated, and often partisan, issue in the U.S. As opposed to elementary and high schools, most students attending institutions of higher learning are adults with greater personal freedoms, but administrators still face responsibility (and liability) for their welfare. According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colleges should consider closing buildings and suspending in-person classes following Covid-19 outbreaks. Doing so comes at a great cost for universities: According to USA Today, experts have warned that “another semester of remote courses could have disastrous effects on student enrollment and college budgets.” Some returning college students have reportedly considered deferring enrollment until campuses fully reopen. Some schools are reportedly charging students up to $ 450 for “Covid-19 fees” intended to cover testing costs, as well as cleaning and other expenses that schools are incurring.
17%: According to a SimpsonScarborough survey taken last month, only 17% of returning college students expressed a desire to return to take all of their classes in-person.