Back-to-school season is in full swing; college students are moving back to campus and preparing for class. However, as we’ve all probably heard plenty of times in the past few months, these are unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much present, and though students have been back at school for only a short time, many universities are already facing outbreaks.
To start, The University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill has already switched to entirely remote learning after 130 students tested positive for the coronavirus during the very first week back. Even though residence halls were at limited capacity and less than 30% of total classroom seats were being taught in-person, case counts skyrocketed. Last week, footage of UNC students on a slip and slide, playing volleyball, and gathering in groups without face coverings outside of the Hinton James Residence Hall was revealed. A day later, a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the dorm was reported- the fourth reported in three days. One of the clusters was identified at the Sigma Nu fraternity.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma State University sorority house was put under quarantine after 23 members tested positive for COVID-19. The entire Pi Beta Phi chapter house is in isolation for two weeks, and one member who lives elsewhere is also in isolation.
“This was expected,” Monica Roberts, OSU director of media relations, said, “When you bring back 20,000 students, there will invariably be more cases related to campus. We’ve prepared for this for five months and have protocols in place to manage the situation. Our priority is the safety and well-being of our campus community and transparency in communications.”
Prior to move-in, OSU students received a mandatory COVID-19 test and 22 tested positive and had to either quarantine in their dorm rooms or in an isolation room.
The University of Connecticut evicted several students after they learned of a party in one of their residence halls.
“It’s something everyone coming back to campus knew would happen,” editor-in-chief of UConn’s student newspaper Peter Fenteany told CNN, “But it’s not something that I expected on the first weekend.”
“According to the report we reviewed this morning, students were not wearing masks, closely assembled, and endangering not only their own health and wellbeing, but that of others at a time when UConn is working to protect our community and resume classes in the context of a deadly global pandemic,” UConn’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Eleanor JB Daugherty, and Executive Director of Residential Life, Pamela Schipani, wrote.
Penn State University saw hundreds of students gather outside of the freshmen dorms on Wednesday night to party. The party lasted about an hour before it was shut down. The gathering took place two days after move-in and the same day that a fraternity on campus was suspended for hosting a maskless social.
“I ask students flaunting the university’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?” Penn State President Eric Barron questioned, “This behavior cannot and will not be tolerated. We have said from the beginning health and safety is our priority, and if the university needs to pivot to fully remote instruction we will.”
“Penn State created this situation by deciding to bring all students back to campus,” said Sarah Townsend, a professor and organizer of the faculty group Coalition for a Just University, “And now the very least it should do is immediate testing of all students on arrival, followed by 10% daily surveillance testing throughout the semester. Enough of the magical thinking.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that many university settings, including dorms, are at high risk for viral transmission.