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COVID-19 cases have plummeted at Notre Dame since a two-week campus shutdown. Can that work for other universities struggling to contain the virus's spread?

By Elyssa Cherney, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Nicole Ludford should have been in art history class on a recent morning - her only course meeting in person this semester - but instead she stayed inside her apartment near the University of Wisconsin-Madison and reflected on the school's most sweeping attempt yet to combat rising COVID-19 cases among students.

The day before, UW-Madison announced a two-week pause on all face-to-face courses and put two predominantly freshman dorms under quarantine as total infections linked to campus topped 1,400. In-person courses were canceled and set to resume remotely on Monday.

Ludford, a senior from Chicago's River North neighborhood, isn't sure the strategy will work. Though cases could drop for a short time, she said she worries the actions don't address the underlying problem: students gathering, not wearing masks and breaking the rules.

"A lot of people are wearing masks but there's still a good majority that I look at and I'm just like, 'You're going to ruin this year for me,'" said Ludford, 21. "It's a lot of money to spend on rent and on online classes to be stuck in an apartment and looking out your window."

On Tuesday, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said more than 300 students were under investigation for misconduct and 12 face "emergency suspension" for violating COVID-19 precautions. Two dozen sorority and fraternity chapters have also been quarantined.

In announcing the two-week pause last week, Blank referenced "the precedent set by several other universities" that did the same.

 

While its long-term success remains to be seen, more universities are trying the two-week pause to overcome outbreaks, as opposed to the more dramatic move of permanently sending students home. That also follows recommendations from public health experts, who say turning students loose could seed new infections in the communities where they return.

With 50 new cases on campus last week, Bradley University in Peoria said it would revert to online learning for at least two weeks and is requiring all students to quarantine. Northern Illinois University followed suit on Friday, suspending in-person classes for undergraduates until Sept. 28 after tallying more than 120 new cases. The University of Wisconsin's LaCrosse campus have also announced a similar pause this week.

The approach has produced mixed results. It seems to have worked, for now, at the University of Notre Dame, which reinstated in-person classes in early September after a temporary shift to remote instruction. More than 400 students got the virus at the Roman Catholic university near South Bend, Indiana, following the first week of classes, an increase also attributed to off-campus gatherings and partying.

But at Temple University in Philadelphia, the hiatus wasn't enough. The school announced in late August that classes would be moved online for at least two weeks. Five days later, however, Temple abandoned the plan, made most classes remote for the entire fall semester and offered housing refunds to students who wanted to leave campus.

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