The College Post
The College Post -- Covering Higher Education in America

How Are Universities Across the US Dealing With COVID-19?

Colleges and universities continue to report thousands of coronavirus cases, prompting authorities to make last-minute changes to school routine. Hoping to slow the spread among students, administrators are being forced to take drastic measures.

There have been over 88,000 coronavirus cases on campuses — a number that has been soaring since the start of the fall semester. Increasing infections in college towns such as Columbia, Ames, and Bloomington have turned these places into COVID-19 hotspots.

Trying to grapple with the situation, school administrators are now handling the surges their own way.

Evolving Learning Environments

Over one-third (34 percent) of US colleges have decided to continue with remote learning for the fall. Some like the Virginia Community College System and California State University System — that oversee a network of colleges — have announced remote learning till spring 2021.

Harvard University, meanwhile, has allowed up to 40 percent of students to live on campus if they agree to get tested every three days. 

Finally, others like Hawaii Pacific University are following a hybrid learning environment.

Hawaii Pacific University President John Y. Gotanda said, “I’m so pleased to be able to share that the many protocols and precautions that have been in place this semester have helped us to stay very healthy as a community.”

With procedures and regulations to stop the rampant infection, other colleges have opted for resuming in-person classes.

For instance, the University of Maryland asked students living in college dorms to restrict their activities for two weeks after 23 positive cases were reported in residence halls in the last two weeks. This news came one week after the University of Virginia announced a dorm-wide quarantine on September 17 after 15 positive cases were identified in one residence hall. 

On-Campus Testing

On the other hand, some schools like Boston University and Colby College are regularly monitoring students for COVID-19 symptoms. New York University too is conducting mandatory testing for students and staff on campus.

In another major step toward large-scale testing on campus, the State University of New York and its faculty union, United University Professions, agreed to regularly test faculty members

Since the pandemic has been equally if not more hostile toward professors who’ve had to abruptly switch to remote learning, the American Association of University Professors has asked schools to provide adjunct professors with paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, and paid training for online classes among other benefits. 

Administrative Measures

The sharp spike in infections with the reopening of schools has also alarmed state authorities. In states like Connecticut and Colorado, rising COVID-19 cases among students have driven up numbers among the public at large.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a press conference, “The worry is that the college transmissions lead to community transitions.” He urged the Colorado public, and students in particular, to obey social distancing norms, wear masks, and wash hands.

Similarly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the state’s Liquor Authority to target bars in college towns to check if students are abiding by safety rules. This comes after several reports of students flouting social distancing rules via college parties and large gatherings. 

Growing concern about the pandemic has now prompted experts from Yale and Harvard to create the We Rate COVID Dashboards website. The website provides clear and accessible information about how educational institutions are monitoring the virus. The website contains a grade card for colleges based on their COVID-19 information dashboards, including how frequently they collect and disseminate coronavirus-related data. 

The website has rated over 150 schools so far. Based on its reports, institutions like Fordham, Long Island University, Yeshiva, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins have flunked for not being able to report adequately on the situation.

Over 6.9 million Americans have now been infected with coronavirus since the pandemic started. With cases soaring, colleges now face a new problem — whether to send students back home knowing that they could get infected, as Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned against doing, or risk having them on campuses until the crisis wears out.