US colleges struggle to salvage semester amid outbreaks

Teenage

US colleges struggle to salvage semester amid outbreaks

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!


MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — Colleges across the country are struggling to salvage the fall semester amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases, entire dorm complexes and frat houses under quarantine, and flaring tensions with local community leaders over the spread of the disease.

Many major universities are determined to forge ahead despite warning signs, as evidenced by the expanding slate of college football games occurring Saturday. The football-obsessed SEC begins its season with fans in stadiums. Several teams in other leagues have had to postpone games because of outbreaks among players and staff.

Institutions across the nation saw spikes of thousands of cases days after opening their doors in the last month, driven by students socialising with little or no social distancing. School and community leaders have tried to rein in the virus by closing bars, suspending students, adding mask requirements, and toggling between in-person and online instruction as case numbers rise and fall.

Tension over the outbreaks is starting to boil over in college towns.

Faculty members from at least two universities have held no-confidence votes in recent weeks against their top leaders, in part over reopening decisions. Government leaders want the University of Wisconsin-Madison to send its students home. Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, alarmed by what he sees as draconian rules on college campuses, said he is drawing up a “bill of rights” for college students.

In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, this week blamed outbreaks at two colleges for a surge of virus cases that boosted the state's infection rate high enough to put it on the list of places whose residents are required to quarantine when travelling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison had seen more than 2,800 confirmed cases in students as of Friday. The school shut down in-person instruction for two weeks, locked down two of its largest dorms, and imposed quarantines on more than a dozen sorority and fraternity houses. The school lifted the dorm lockdown just this week.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has demanded the university sent all its students home for the rest of the academic year.

“(The virus) was under control until the university came back,” Parisi said.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank has fired back, saying tens of thousands of students with off-campus housing would still come to the city. She accused Parisi of failing to enforce capacity restrictions in bars and off-campus parties.

“You can't simply wish (students) away, nor should you,” Blank said in a statement directed at Parisi.

Amid the fighting, thousands of students around the country have been quarantined in dorm rooms.

At Kansas State University, more than 2,200 students have been placed in quarantine or isolation since class began. Student Emily Howard was isolated in what students have dubbed “COVID jail” after she and her dorm roommate tested positive for the virus on September 4, just three weeks after arriving on campus.

“Now you walk around campus (and) pretty much everyone says they've had it,” Howard said. “Now we don't really care as much because we know we had the antibodies.”

Bryan Fisher, a UW-Madison freshman quarantined in the dorms, said students were allowed to leave only to get food from the dining hall, and they were given only 30 minutes to make each trip. He said he spent his time studying and watching movies.

“We were pretty much stuck in here,” Fisher said. “It's been pretty hard to meet new people. Everyone's expectations of college aren't what they were.”

The University of Connecticut on Friday placed a third dormitory under medical quarantine. More than 150 students have tested positive.

The University of Missouri has had more than 1,500 confirmed cases among students since classes began. The school plans to limit the crowd at Saturday's home football opener against Alabama to no more than 11,700 fans, leaving the stands about 80 per cent empty.

Florida State on Friday decided to require that students test negative for the virus a week before a football game before being allowed to attend and must wear masks in the stands. Seminoles Coach Mike Norvell tested positive for the virus last week.

Despite the attempts at mitigation, student cases have sent local county infection numbers soaring. Schools' decisions to push on with the semester have frustrated some faculty and local community leaders.

Faculty members at Appalachian State in August approved a no-confidence vote against Chancellor Sheri Everts over university finances, morale and reopening plans. Everts has said she has received support from the school's board of trustees.

The University of Michigan faculty took a no-confidence vote against President Mark Schlissel earlier this month. Faculty felt Schlissel's administration hasn't been transparent about reopening decisions and hasn't released any modeling gauging the health risks. Graduate students went on strike September 8 to protest reopening. Schlissel has acknowledged that trust in his leadership had slipped, but the university's governing board expressed support him this week.

“Colleges and universities are ... under immense pressure to remain open,” said Chris Mariscano, director of the College Crisis Initiative, a research project at Davidson College tracking the effects of the virus on higher education. “When the president of the United States starts tweeting (about staying open), you understand just how much politics is playing a role here and institutional survival is playing a role here.”

University officials across the country say they hope to bolster testing and contact tracing as the semester continues. But Mariscano said universities should expect college students to act like college students.

At Kansas State, Howard was not especially concerned about the virus and didn't mind the “COVID Jail,” where students got free laundry service and their own bedrooms.

“I personally am not too worried about it, and everyone I have talked to is not that worried about it,” she said. “I think it is more like, you are going to get it. It's just a matter of when.”


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT