Colleges have become a focal point of the coronavirus debate. Some universities elected to remain closed for the fall while others opted to reopen. The spotlight is on universities that chose to reopen as many have closed prematurely after outbreaks on their campuses.
A notable example of a school deciding to close after an outbreak is University of North Carolina. They made the decision to send its students home after a week of classes due to a surge in cases upon the return of students. However, experts warn that this is potentially the worst course of action.
There seems to be a consensus in the public health community that Universities should not have opened in the first place, but if they did choose to reopen, they must remain open. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s leading infectious disease expert maintains that sending sick students back home from a campus infection surge is “the worst thing you could do.” This would mean exposing an otherwise safe community to the infections spreading on campus. A University of Michigan economist, Susan Dynarski, tweeted that “unloading students onto home communities” is “deeply unethical.”
So, what should colleges do when and if they experience an outbreak? The best thing to do is to increase the amount of testing to catch as many asymptomatic cases as possible. This is because asymptomatic people are typically the individuals that contribute the most to the spread of a disease. Next, implementing preventative measures such as social distancing, mandatory mask wearing, and limiting the number of people who can congregate together. With these measures in place, the effects of a infection outbreak are mitigated.
However, relying on colleges students to behave responsibly is also a huge portion of the equation. Over labor day weekend, students revealed that perhaps they are not as responsible as they are being expected to be. Groups of college students congregated on boats and at bars, all while flouting guidelines presented by universities.
Some schools have made it clear that they will not tolerate such behavior. Northeastern University of Boston expelled eleven students after they were caught having a party at an off campus hotel. None of the students will receive tuition reimbursement. This incident is reflective of how intense some schools are taking the coronavirus pandemic.
It is unlikely that COVID-19 will disappear from the world and college campuses in the near future as quelling the spread of the virus is contingent on the development of a vaccine. However, in the interim it is essential that Colleges adhere to guidelines suggested by Dr. Fauci and abstain from contributing to community spread.