In June 2020, meatpacking factories were hotspots for covid-19. Now, universities and colleges all around the country are the new hotspots. Right before the beginning of the fall term, some colleges around the country decided to change course and not bring all students back to campus.
Currently only 23% of schools are primarily in person according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Universities operating in hybrid or in-person teaching modality have been seeing a rise in covid cases not only among students but also among employees. As of September 25, The New York Times found at least 130,000 coronavirus reported cases and counting in universities in the US.
While some have critiqued universities for opening their campuses, the way in which they are opened and operated matters.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has no regrets for bringing students back.
“There are certain things about a residential university that you really cannot replicate online. So that’s where we’re trying to focus our attention on. Because you know a lot of a residential college is not just about the coursework,” said Public Affairs Chancellor of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Robin Neal Kaler. “You’re in class for 15, maybe 20 hours a week. It’s about learning how to live with other people, learning how to meet people who have different life experiences from you or who are different from you and learning to get together.”
Despite having rigourous free covid-19 testing which around 40 thousand students are required to take twice per week, the university of Illinois saw a peak in cases because of students flouting social distancing guidelines and partying.
“What we found was that the spike wasn’t what we had anticipated, which was some kids going to parties and not wearing masks and that sort of thing but it was actually people who had tested positive and then ignored the call from the public health district or took the call, knew they were positive, and still went out and did things spreading the virus,” said Kaler.
A similar situation was captured in Oxford Ohio. A covid-19 positive Miami University student hosted a party. An officer of the Oxford Police Department saw the gathering and had to break up the party.
Because of these problems, many universities have adopted no tolerance policies.
“We were going to jack up enforcement and we’re going to get these people who are refusing to participate in the safety protocols off campus because we told everybody before the start of the semester, ‘it’s going to be a privilege to be here and we’re going to have a lot of expectations from you’ and we made it very clear what they were. So far nine students have been issued interim suspensions and five of those have become longer-term dismissals in two fraternity houses. And we’ve seen our positive case numbers just drop,” said Kaler.
Students who get tested positive get separated and put in isolation wards putting college students into unfamiliar and unsettling places.
“Wherever you go into isolation, you’re fully moved away from everyone else. You can’t take any perishables with you, can’t take blankets. You have to take the bare minimum. And you’re basically moved into a baron building with no other person and so that was the moment. I got into the apartment and there was absolutely no sign of life anywhere. There was nothing that made it feel like home and that’s when I started to break down because the only thing that I had was a blanket that was mine and then my school stuff and some of my clothes,” said Acellyn Tate, a freshman at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma who had to isolate on-campus after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for covid.
“I went through sorority recruitment and so, one of the girls had coronavirus and got a positive test and she didn’t know that she had it until 2 days after. I started getting a really bad cough and then a fever. I called the health center and told them that I was around someone positive and if I should go into quarantine? And it was about 2 days after they put me into isolation. I took the test and I was negative for Covid. But I still had to get isolated. I had to move everything for 10 days across campus all by myself while I was sick,” said Tate.
Even though Tate was in quarantine, she was still able to attend her in-person classes online. She has a bad gluten allergy but her university was able to make appropriate accommodations for her.
“They were amazing about it. They brought me individual packets of sealed things, and that was an amazing experience. It’s obviously college cafeteria food, it wasn’t 5 star dining. But it was one of the most normal aspects of the entire experience,” said Tate.
Public health officials are warning schools not to send infected students back home. Despite this, students at the University of North Carolina were told to go back home after a spike in cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “It’s the worst thing you could do. When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection.”
“I woke up, I was so lethargic, I had pains, body ache, fever, cold, headache, the whole jist. And so that morning, I tested positive.” Christina Lewis from the University of Tulsa Oklahoma was isolated in her own apartment and had to prioritize her health over school because of her strong covid symptoms.
“I could not focus on school. Not to be dramatic but I got the hard end of the stick and I was in the hospital for 4 days. School work was kind of the last thing on my head. I would get really light-headed, I thought I was going to pass out. I thought I was going to die because I could hardly breathe. It really took a toll on my lungs. It was like being hit by a truck every single day and then one day I was up and it was just progressively better,” said Lewis.
“My mom was a huge believer that covid was a hoax and that it was going to end after the election. But when I got it, she saw that I was in the hospital and I had a tube down my throat because I couldn’t breathe. It flipped in her head. ‘My 18-year-old daughter barely went to campus or work and wears her mask everyday, got covid,’” said Lewis.