On-Campus Coronavirus Outbreaks Alter Approach to Fall Semester

by Katie Sloan

The return of students to campuses across the country has quickly ushered in a number of coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks, causing concern regarding the rest of the semester and the safety of students on-campus. A number of schools that planned for on-campus learning this fall have already announced a reversion to online learning in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Student Housing Business will continue with online updates as this story develops, reporting weekly on the shifting landscape for on-campus learning this fall. 

Sept. 9, 2020

The New York Times’ survey of 1,500 colleges and universities has charted 51,000 cases of coronavirus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sept. 2, the same survey reported 26,000 cases of coronavirus and 64 deaths. Of the cases tracked, 45,000 have been recorded since late July. 

The New York Times also reported that a cluster of 44 cases in the Virginia Commonwealth athletic department has forced the university to find additional isolation space; Iowa State has scrapped plans to allow 25,000 fans to attend their first home football game; and California State University, Chico, sent students home to take online classes after dozens of cases emerged, including at least one in almost every residence hall.

West Virginia University announced Monday that undergraduate classes would be moved online through Sept. 25 after seeing a spike of COVID-19 cases. From Sept. 2 through Sept. 16, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has requested that undergraduate students avoid gathering in small or large groups under any circumstances. Students have been asked to only leave their residences for essential tasks including twice-weekly COVID-19 tests, purchasing groceries or food, attending class, engaging in individual outdoor activity, attending religious services, working or seeking medical attention. 

Northeastern University in Massachusetts dismissed 11 students last week for violating safety precautions, according to reports by the New York Times. New York University, Ohio State, Purdue and West Virginia University have also suspended students over violations of rules intended to lessen the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Sept. 2, 2020

In a survey of 1,500 colleges and universities across the U.S., the New York Times has tracked 26,000 cases of coronavirus and 64 deaths at college campuses since the beginning of the pandemic, with 20,000 of those cases identified since late July.

The universities with the highest number of tracked cases include the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has reported 972 cases of COVID-19; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has reported 835 cases; the University of Central Florida with 727 cases; the University of Alabama with 568 cases; and Auburn University, also located in Alabama, with 557 cases. 

Further details on the survey and a tally of coronavirus cases at each school can be found here. 

Alongside an uptick in the number of reported coronavirus cases on-campus, local news sources state that over 400 violations of student COVID-19 regulations had been tracked since students returned to the University of Alabama campus for the fall semester.

Similarly, the New York Times reported Tuesday that the University of South Carolina has taken disciplinary action against more than a dozen students and several Greek life organizations that administrators said recently hosted parties or large gatherings. The university announced that 15 students had been placed under interim suspension and that six Greek houses had been charged with student conduct violations stemming from parties.

Utah State University has quarantined 287 students after finding elevated amounts of COVID-19 in wastewater samples collected from four residence halls, according to reports by CNN. 

Northwestern University has announced that first- and second-year students will be required to participate in online-only classes for the fall quarter. James Madison University has also announced a transition to primarily online learning following an uptick in COVID-19 cases on-campus. 

Aug. 19, 2020

Following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced on Monday that it would be shutting down in-person classes for undergraduate students, moving courses entirely online for the duration of the fall semester. As of Monday, 177 students had been isolated after testing positive for COVID-19 and another 349 students were in quarantine due to possible exposure.  

With the reduction of on-campus activities, the university has asked that all undergraduate students living in the university’s residence halls change their living accommodations for the duration of the fall semester. Students with hardships — such as lack of access to reliable internet — international students and student-athletes will have the option to remain on-campus.

“There are no easy answers as the nation navigates through the pandemic,” says University of North Carolina President Peter Hans. “At this point, we haven’t received any information that would lead to similar modifications at any of our other universities. Whether at Chapel Hill or another institution, students must continue to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing, as their personal responsibility, particularly in off-campus settings, is critical to the success of this semester and to protect public health.”

The University of Notre Dame also announced that it would be moving to online instruction for at least the next two weeks in an attempt to control the spread of a growing coronavirus outbreak on-campus. The school reported that at least 147 people had tested positive for the virus over the course of the last two weeks. Eighty of those confirmed cases were added this week, with all but one being students and no hospitalizations, according to reports by The New York Times. 

Notre Dame is also closing public spaces on-campus and restricting residence hall visitation to residents only. Students who live in off-campus housing have been barred from campus. 

“If these steps are not successful, we will have to send students home, as we did last spring,” said Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, in a video addressing students. Michigan State also announced on Tuesday that the university would be shifting reopening plans, asking students not to return to campus for the start of classes in two weeks. 

— Katie Sloan 

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