By Nicholas Bainbridge
Universities across the country shut down last spring due to the COVID-19 virus, leading to most college courses taking place in online chatrooms, like Zoom and Webex. In the fall, institutions of higher learning opened their doors once more for in-person instruction; however, the return to normalcy is not perfect.
To prevent the spread of the disease among their students and staff, colleges have implemented strict social distancing policies. While this may somewhat reduce the threat, multiple colleges have deemed these measures lacking.
Several universities have already stopped their in-person lessons and have returned to only providing online education, each doing so when they met a density of confirmed cases on their campuses.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill closed its doors on Aug. 17, after only a week of classes, when it was discovered that 135 of their approximately 30,000 students contracted the illness.
According to the Daily Tar Heel, the UNC Chapel Hill student newspaper, infections tended to be centralized around specific regions, primarily infecting people who resided in certain areas of their campus.
“The university has confirmed four clusters of COVID-19 at Ehringhaus Residence Hall, Hinton James Residence Hall, Granville Towers and the off-campus fraternity house Sigma Nu,” wrote Maddie Ellis, a student journalist who writes for the Daily Tar Heel.
Concerned that these localized infection regions would expand and infect larger segments of the student body, the management of the university decided that the safest choice was to send their students home until further notice.
“The health and safety of our campus community are paramount,” said UNC chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz.
UNC Chapel Hill is only one of multiple colleges that have shut down in-person classes, but they are not all permanent suspensions.
The University of Notre Dame announced its suspension of in-person instruction on Aug. 18, when there was a spike in the number of cases detected on their campus. Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of the university, explained that the closure was only temporary.
“Since we announced it, the rate of new cases has gone down substantially,” said Jenkins after the suspension began. “The positivity rate is still high, but it is declining. Surveillance testing randomly tests members of the general campus community, and over 1,200 tests showed a positivity rate of less than 1%. With these encouraging numbers, we believe we can return to in-person classes in stages to the level of activity we had before the pause.”
The University of Notre Dame resumed its in-person classes on Sept. 2, and is closely monitoring the rate of cases to determine if this method of implementing a temporary pause is an effective means of ensuring that students and staff can have a safe semester while being on campus.
High Point University has already reached the range of numbers that caused these institutions to take action. According to the HPU Health Hub, a resource run by the university to ensure transparency and provide reliable information about how the university is being influenced by the pandemic, there have been over 130 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the student body.
Students who test positive are placed in isolation until both of these qualifications have been met: It has been at least 10 days from the time the symptoms first appeared; and it has been 24 hours since fever has resolved and respiratory symptoms have improved.
HPU currently has no plans of following the example of UNC Chapel Hill and other schools in closing its doors to move to purely online instruction. It is, however, maintaining online instruction for about 100 students who chose to return home and take virtual classes – an option the university recently provided.
While the university has given students who don’t feel comfortable on campus the option to return home, they can also return to campus anytime. The university says it will remain for classes and does not plan to go fully virtual at this time.
Based on patterns established by examining other institutions and what led to their closing, avoiding large gatherings is one of the most important things to do to prevent the spreading of the disease.