College Reopenings Lead to (Inevitable) Surge of COVID-19 Cases

By Taylor Mascetta

Well… what exactly did we expect?

Over the course of an unprecedented five-month quarantine, college students across America waited with bated breath for news about whether campuses would reopen or not for the Fall 2020 semester. On one hand, some universities completely shifted to online learning to ensure a spring semester, while others chose to attempt in-person learning. However, both plans have resulted in iffy, and in some cases, disastrous results for some institutions.

Colleges including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, and SUNY Oneonta have already resorted to online learning after massive spikes of positive cases occurred within a week of reopening. A majority of the Ivy League (excluding Cornell University, which has reopened its campus) suddenly shifted to online learning with extremely limited housing capacity within days of the start of the semester. Administrations at The Ohio State University, Purdue University, and many others are suspending students not following guidelines, but the fraternity and dorm parties still rage on.

Even Fordham has already faced its own struggles with containing COVID-19. Within its first week, underclassmen crowded Howl, rumors of orientation leaders throwing off-campus “darties” spread across social media, and the annual candle lighting on Eddies’ was canceled after a public outcry.

Who, however, is truly at fault for these inevitable collegiate outbreaks? Is it the groups of socially-starved college students who can’t survive an entire semester without partying, or the college administrations that allowed everyone to return to campus in the first place?

Reopenings started looking risky the moment the University of North Carolina announced that all students must head home and undergraduate courses would move online, thanks to four separate COVID clusters that emerged within the first week. Videos quickly emerged online of UNC students throwing huge parties within dorms and fraternity houses, and a clip of a large group sharing a slip-and-slide quickly went viral on Tiktok. By August 16, the campus had 130 positive cases and announced that students were forced to vacate their rooms as soon as possible.

The Daily Tarheel branded the entire situation as an absolute “clusterf*ck.” In an editorial posted on August 16, the newspaper stated that “university leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.”

Students at Syracuse University echoed similar sentiments after a massive congregation of incoming freshmen threatened to shut the entire campus down before classes even began. Several viral clips show the newcomers gathering on the university’s “Quad” on August 19 with an apparent absence of masks and proper social distancing. Syracuse Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie condemned the students’ behavior, stating that their actions could put the entire school at risk of shutdown. While upperclassmen remain rightfully upset at the immaturity displayed that night, many questioned why Syracuse’s Public Safety, located right near the Quad, did not handle the situation immediately.

“Campus police could not prevent a party from forming in the most visible space on campus.” Syracuse’s editorial board at The Daily Orange wrote on August 20. “What little faith the SU community had in the administration’s ability to keep us safe, let alone keep us on campus until November, is gone.”

A similar situation occurred the same night at Pennsylvania State University, where massive groups of unmasked freshmen gathered for a “twerk circle” outside the campus’ East Hall dormitory. The group immediately came under massive backlash, considering many upperclassmen hadn’t even moved onto campus yet.

Universities are also eyeing Greek Life as a source of COVID outbreaks amid their “rush” season. While multiple chapters are taking the necessary steps to prevent potential outbreaks, frat parties and sorority rushes still rage on. Multiple clusters have already popped up within both fraternity and sorority houses, notably at UNC (again), North Carolina State, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Oklahoma State University quarantined its entire Pi Beta Phi sorority within its own house when 23 sisters tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an informal chapter meeting around August 16. One student at the University of Southern California, according to the New York Times, says he overheard a member of Greek life say “it’s worth it to socialize and be with my friends even if it means getting COVID.”

Most recently, SUNY Oneonta suffered a devastating outbreak after a late August house party caused a sudden outbreak. The campus had not required testing before and upon arriving on campus, leading to over 500 students testing positive in a matter of days. It became the first SUNY to shut down during the outbreak, and Governor Cuomo even sent in a task-force to help contain the virus.

The number of cases on college campuses grows increasingly worrisome. As of September 4, there have been 45,000 positive cases found within college campuses since July. Universities including the University of Alabama, the University of South Carolina, and Illinois State University have over a thousand cases each. We haven’t even reached midterms.

However, all hope is not lost. As cases continue to climb, multiple college administrations are taking necessary steps to punish rulebreakers and help contain additional outbreaks. Two notable examples include The Ohio State University, who suspended 228 students suspected of social gatherings by their first day of classes, and the University of Connecticut, who revoked housing from students busted for throwing dorm parties. A vast majority of college students, too, are unafraid to “snitch” on their rule-breaking classmates, in hope of maintaining a somewhat normal semester.

As for Fordham, we seem to be doing quite well. A majority of Fordham students are doing their part to follow social distancing guidelines, and our efforts seem to be working; only four positive cases from both Lincoln Center and Rose Hill have been confirmed as of September 2. The number is reassuring that our fall semester will, hopefully, go on as planned. However, the second round of results will determine whether or not the campus will stay open. We’ll see in a matter of weeks, and hopefully, we aren’t back home by then.

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