Students return home a week after class starts as campus cases increase

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Student-athletes walk the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus on August 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.Melissa Sue Gerrits | Getty Images

It was a beautiful Monday at Polk Place Quad at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Olivia Amos dined with her classmates in a row, enjoying the new university life of freedom offered to students upon their return to the autumn.Then the group received a collective buzz from their phones.

In that on August 17, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told students that the coronavirus was tearing campus apart and escalating cases had created an “untenable situation.” From that point on, all undergraduate courses would transfer online, and Amos and his friends were to vacate their accommodation on campus as soon as possible.

“I think we were a bit shocked,” said Amos, a 19-year-old sophomore studying communications. “We were all kind of like, ‘What’s going on? “”

Reopening universities across the country have struggled to contain growing number of Covid-19 infections, mess up carefully crafted plans to get students back to class safely. School officials have urged students to maintain social distancing practices as health officials trace clusters of cases to off-campus gatherings. Infectious disease experts say the situation is not surprising.

The troubled reopens have prompted other universities to cancel plans for in-person classes before students arrive.

‘A formidable enemy’

The UNC canceled in-person classes a week ago after more than 135 students who tested positive for Covid-19 and 349 were in quarantine. When the announcement was made, there were only four rooms left for students who needed to be quarantined, according to the university’s data dashboard. About 470 new cases were confirmed last week.

Offenders: Off-campus gatherings, according to Peter Hans, president of the University of North Carolina system.

The University of Notre Dame said it would suspend in-person classes for two weeks on August 18, when there are a total of 255 cases on campus. There are now at least 448 cases of Covid-19 on campus, according to university data through Sunday. School officials have identified off-campus parties as the culprits.

“The virus is a formidable enemy,” Notre Dame President Reverend John Jenkins said during the announcement. “For a week, he won. ”

Officials from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Syracuse University and Penn State University have issued similar warnings to students who have gathered on and off campus. The University of Connecticut has kicked some residents from their dorms after staging an unapproved rally, saying they were not following social distancing guidelines.

“It only takes a few to ruin it for the greatest number, as we’ve seen in other universities across the country,” Penn State President Eric Barron warned Thursday.

Other institutions, such as Michigan State University and Ithaca College in New York, seen what was going on at colleges across the United States last week and canceled their plans to return students to campus this fall.

‘We are shocked’

Kyle Garcia, a 17-year-old freshman at Notre Dame and aspiring aerospace engineering, could face the same dilemma as Amos in the coming days.

Garcia missed a traditional high school diploma in San Diego earlier this year and had to cancel plans to run a summer bible school due to the epidemic. Now he’s threatening to reverse his first semester as a student, as Notre Dame debates whether to send students home just two weeks after they move in.

“The general consensus is that we are shocked. It was not at all planned; that was not expected, ”Garcia said, speaking from the university campus where students are strictly blocked after an increase in Covid-19 cases last week.

Garcia, who has been to South Bend University in Indiana and has frequently visited nearby stores to purchase dorm supplies, is now preparing for his possible return home. If the coronavirus is prevalent, Garcia said he was concerned about the threat students would pose if asked to return home.

“I think people are very surprised at how quickly this has manifested,” he said. “There really was a holiday weekend and we are at 300 cases. ”

Amos said she plans to find an off-campus apartment as she and her friends begin the process of moving to UNC. One has hastily made plans to move with her parents to Maryland, while another is worried about returning home with her older parents.

“I knew there was a big possibility for us to move in this semester, so I tried to pack as light as possible,” she said. “I just hadn’t planned on moving so soon. “

No surprise

Sadly, infectious disease experts say the situation is not surprising.

“Part of the college experience is the social experience. I mean, it’s not just about education, ”said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor in the Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases.

Del Rio said the nation had failed to effectively suppress Covid-19. Even though universities have made testing, contact tracing, social distancing and wearing the uniform mask central to their plans to reopen, the virus is still wreaking havoc in local communities where many students live off campus. .

“There are just too many viruses in the community,” del Rio said. “If we had done a better job of controlling the epidemic, I think we would be in a very different position. ”

Even in states like New York, which has been able to effectively control the transmission of Covid-19 for months, school officials face uncertainties about whether universities will reopen, member Ravina Kullar said. of the Assistant Faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles and a Fellow of the American Society of Infectious Diseases.

This is because many students travel from different states with worse epidemics, and universities are creating “fertile ground for a Covid disaster to occur,” she said.

‘Everything can change’

“I think it’s one thing to say that this city or this state is well prepared, but then everything can change when the colleges open,” Kullar said.

Dr Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and former Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration, criticized the lack of national uniformity in testing for Covid- 19.

Koh mentioned a recent study conducted by Yale University and published in JAMA which found that colleges should test students every other day to safely reopen, although the study says it rules out the effects of contact tracing and testing of professors.

Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that universities test people with symptoms of Covid-19 or asymptomatic people who have come into contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. But as the country ventures deeper into the year, the flu season poses an additional threat to universities as clinicians and students will find it difficult to tell the difference between symptoms, Koh said.

“We have a rapid and unprecedented pandemic, very little data and no national guidelines,” he said. “So each university and college has to tackle this on their own and find what they think is the best strategy. “

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