Across the country, thousands of students are giving in-person learning the old college try. What does that mean in the COVID-19 reality? It depends where you’re in school.
That’s because in the U.S. there’s no uniform approach to educating students during a pandemic.
Ed Yong of The Atlantic once described our national experience of Covid-19 as "a patchwork pandemic." That held true when he wrote it in May, and it applies to higher education now. With no clear national guidelines, schools have been left to weigh financial pressure against the virus’s risk to their communities.
At many campuses students continue to gather in groups, including at fraternities and sororities.
The result? One outbreak after the next.
This week, 13 members of Boston College’s swim and dive team tested positive for Covid-19.
Also, schools are having to spend resources monitoring young adults who are getting their first taste of freedom. A student at Miami University in Ohio threw a house party 1 week after he tested positive, and his campus is already a hotspot, logging over 1,000 cases so far. The university is currently Ohio's second-worst COVID-19 outbreak.
This week, New York University suspended more than 20 students for breaking coronavirus rules. In August, Syracuse University suspended 23 students for what they called an "incredibly reckless" gathering.
In total, the New York Times reports higher learning institutions have identified 51,000 COVID positive cases. And campuses are taking differing approaches to their outbreaks. The University of North Carolina moved to online instruction after an early outbreak there. Some campuses are sending COVID-positive students home.
The White House is discouraging this response. President Trump said, “instead of saving lives, the decision to close universities could cost lives. It is significantly safer for students to live with other young people than to go home and spread the virus to older Americans.”
Other campuses are quarantining COVID positive students in isolation dorms. That’s posing its own challenges for the supervision and care of the infected."
A number of colleges and universities have hired security guards to ensure that students are obeying quarantine rules.
Will keeping students on campus work out? Or, with half of universities already offering online classes, will more schools move to online learning only? The next week could tell us a lot.
Dr. Deborah Birx of the Coronavirus Task Force spoke at the University of South Carolina Thursday. She seemed concerned cases will spike after Labor Day. "Just because we know someone, we think that there's no way that they could have Covid, but I want to tell you, you can't tell.”
She urged the crowd to go out and get tested if they congregated for events over the weekend. She added, “What we’re asking people to do is socialize smart.”