Colleges face challenges with efforts to reopen



As colleges begin to reopen, some have difficulty due to the area and number of cases.

Vivianna Varlack

Expecting COVID-19 to pandemic to subside, on June 3, 2020, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) announced the reopening of their Fall 2020 semester with in-person instruction and social distancing guidelines. However, as COVID-19 spreads across the country, UT, along with many other colleges, opted for safer reopening plans. 

CHS Class of 2019 alumna Rebecca Rippon explained how her college is handling the fall semester. 

“Emerson is being super precautious with everything,” Rippon said. “We’re back on campus doing a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, our dining centers have slightly reduced capacity and the rules for social gatherings are much more strict than before.”

For many colleges, the hybrid model is the perfect balance of in-person and virtual schooling to help navigate the pandemic. However, schools in areas of the country that have reported immense numbers of COVID-19 cases, like New Jersey, or who have faced issues with reopening plans, have decided to be completely remote. 

CHS Class of 2018 alumna Rachel Wolson spoke about issues that her college, the University of Vermont, and other colleges might face. 

“I think UVM is doing a pretty comprehensive job at taking precautions, but of course the most unpredictable factor is the students themselves,” Wolson said. “Hopefully the student body will do the right thing.”

Already, colleges that have let students back on campus are facing issues. Many students are testing positive on their initial test once they arrive on campus.

At Iowa State University, a total of 175 students have tested positive for COVID-19 during the move-in period. In response, Iowa State is allowing students to return home or stay in quarantined housing on their campus, until the student no longer has the virus. 

Students at UNC Chapel Hill ignored social distancing guidelines which resulted in four different clusters of coronavirus outbreaks, three coming from dormitories and one from off-campus greek housing. The Dean of UNC Chapel Hill, Barbara Rimer, put out a statement about closing the university after only two weeks.

“The number of clusters is growing and soon could become out of control,” Rimer said. “It is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.”

Additionally, students are ignoring college’s bans on throwing parties. Schools, such as the University of Alabama, are closing Greek Life events because of unauthorized partying. Penn State has placed a limit of 10 person large gatherings because of videos surfacing on social media of the Class of 2024 having big parties two days after moving in.

While some colleges are still scrambling to contain COVID-19 cases, others, like the University of Notre Dame, have already quelled their spike in cases. 

During the school’s reopening in early August, 33% Notre Dame students tested positive for the coronavirus. As weekends passed, more students were tested and the positivity rate of students who initially tested negative rose from 8% to 50%. Recognizing that there would soon be an outbreak, Notre Dame moved online and quarantined students for two weeks. After taking these precautions, the cases dropped, in-person classes began, and the university reintroduced normal events. 

 CHS Class of 2020 alumna Mary Eknoian explained how Notre Dame students have felt about the last month. 

“I’m really proud of my school… now we’re back in person and there’s only one to two cases a day,” Eknoian said. “Our first football game is Saturday, and we’re going to be able to attend, which I think shows how good we’ve been doing.”

Despite these challenges, some students still have hope for the upcoming semester.

“I was supposed to be studying abroad this semester, so COVID has definitely put a big dent in my overall plans,” Wolson said. “But…while this semester looks a lot different than I thought it would, I don’t think it’s necessarily in a negative light.”