Colleges Continue Struggle to Contain COVID-19

Quarantines and cancelling spring break are just some of the ways campuses are trying to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Published: September 22, 2020

Last week, Campus Safety reported that more than 75% of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots were in college towns, and that trend appears to be continuing.

Of the counties where university students make up at least 10% of the population, half have seen COVID-19 cases at their highest-ever levels in the past month, reports Bloomberg.

Additionally, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that institutions of higher education that reopened for face-to-face instruction might have caused tens of thousands of extra coronavirus cases in the past few weeks. Researchers from four universities estimate that an additional 3,200 cases per day occurred in the U.S. that likely wouldn’t have happened had campuses stuck with distance learning.

The increase in cases is prompting schools and their surrounding communities to respond. The recent outbreak at San Diego State is large enough to put the county where the campus is located – San Diego County – over a state threshold for COVID-19 cases that requires many businesses to close or restrict operations, reports KTLA5. San Diego State’s student cases are more than 800.

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In Texas counties where university students make up at least 10% of the population, coronavirus cases have risen 34% since August 19, reports the Texas Tribune. The increase is 23% in counties with smaller proportions of college students, including urban areas like Houston and Dallas.

University officials in the Texas counties with higher proportions of students are working to ensure that students who test positive don’t infect non-students, including faculty and staff members. According to the Texas Tribune, to some extent, their efforts have worked.

One of the ways many colleges are trying to stem the spread of the virus is the cancellation of spring break, reports GMA. The schools taking this approach include the University of Michigan; University of Wisconsin, Madison; Purdue; Ohio State; University of Iowa; University of Tennessee, University of Florida; Baylor; Texas Christian University; Kansas State; University of Kentucky; Iowa State; University of Northern Iowa and Carnegie Mellon University.

Campus officials hope that the cancellation of spring break will reduce student travel and the potential spread of COVID-19.

Some campuses are opting to continue distance learning in the spring. All 23  California State University campuses will continue with coursework primarily delivered virtually for the academic term beginning January 2021.

However, many campuses that have experienced significant case increases recently have had to pivot more quickly.

A week ago, the University of Arizona asked everyone living on or near campus to quarantine for two weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus, reports AZFamily.com. The move comes as the school reported more than 2,000 new cases since August. Since then, the daily positivity rate decreased from 6.4% to 6.1%, reports Tucson.com. That being said, school officials warned that if the rate goes up again, they might take legal action. University officials want the positivity rate to be under 5%.

The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University announced on Friday that students living off campus won’t be allowed on campus for two weeks for classes or work, reports SC Times.

The University of Wyoming halted classes for more than a week due to a spike in cases in the county where it is located. On Monday, 772 people were infected in the state, compared to 428 a week ago, reports K2Radio.

The rise in cases near institutions of higher education have mostly been attributed to students attending off-campus parties and bars. Although young people are less likely to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 – many are asymptomatic – the concern is that they will infect others in the community who are more vulnerable.

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