On Tuesday, local health officials ordered students at the University of Michigan to stay in their residences — effective immediately — in an effort to control an escalating campus outbreak.
Cases and positivity test rates have recently spiked in Ann Arbor, which had largely dodged the worst of the pandemic. Since Oct. 12, cases associated with the university have comprised 61 percent of more than 600 confirmed and probable local infections, according to Jimena Loveluck, the health officer for Washtenaw County, which encompasses Ann Arbor and the university.
“Most of the cases on our campus can be traced back to small- and medium-size gatherings without appropriate face coverings and social distancing,” university leadership said in an emailed statement to students and staff members.
The stay-in-place order, which applies to all undergraduate students through Nov. 3, has quite a few exceptions. Students who are not showing symptoms of Covid-19 can still attend in-person class, play varsity sports and get medical care. They can also access university dining services and exercise in pairs outside.
Health officials say those activities have not been problematic. It’s socializing without precautions that has fueled the outbreak.
“During the day, on campus, everyone’s fine and following the rules,” said Emma Stein, 21, a senior news editor for The Michigan Daily, the student paper. “But at night, on weekends, they don’t.”
Although the restrictions do not constitute a quarantine, the health department may start issuing fines for violations, Ms. Loveluck said. That’s especially important in advance of Oct. 31, which was shaping up to be a big party weekend to celebrate the season’s first home football game against rival Michigan State.
“We’ve needed this for a long time,” one student told The Detroit Free Press. “Right now, we’re the university who chose football over the safety and well-being of not only us the students, but every single person who comes into contact with us.”
In Ann Arbor, students and faculty have criticized the university for its reopening plan, which did not include widespread testing for asymptomatic students until today. Other colleges have relied on extensive, mandatory testing to keep cases down, since asymptomatic people are often contagious.
A few weeks ago, Ms. Stein, the senior, drove to an urgent care center in another town to get a routine test. She and her friends didn’t even think to go through the university health system. “We wouldn’t qualify,” she said, “so we just drove.”
“This was all too predictable,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the university who consulted on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus response. “The reopening plans of colleges and universities across the country have been built on hopes and prayers, not on a rigorous plan to actually identify asymptomatic cases and isolate them from the rest of the community.”
K-12 students come back, safely
After nearly all of the country’s largest districts started the school year remote-only, students are slowly returning to classrooms. The Washington Post reports that 24 of the country’s 50 biggest school districts have resumed in-person classes for large groups of students. Just 11 are fully remote and have no immediate plans to bring students back to classrooms.
The reversal, the Post reporters Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss wrote, is “driven by fear that students are falling behind and early evidence that schools have not become coronavirus superspreaders as feared.”
Comprehensive data are scarce, but that trend has been borne out, anecdotally, across the country. Generally, cases are notably low in elementary schools, and increase slightly in middle and high schools. In Texas and New York City, well less than 1 percent of tests from students and school staff members are positive.
Some scientific research seems to confirm that trend. Two international studies found little relationship between transmission and the return to classrooms, NPR reported.
“Some medical experts are saying it’s time to shift the discussion from the risks of opening K-12 schools to the risks of keeping them closed,” NPR’s Anya Kamenetz wrote.
Around the country
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new coronavirus restrictions for colleges and universities, as cases surge in college towns.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s football team, the 49ers, have had one of the most Covid-interrupted schedules of the season. “It’s 2020,” said Chris Reynolds, a junior quarterback. “Everybody’s dealing with this right now.”
The University of Florida’s football team reported 25 more positive tests among the team in the past week, according to school officials. Last week, 19 players and coaches, including the head coach, tested positive.
Jeff Brohm, the head football coach at Purdue University, has also tested positive.
“Much like the rest of the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tulane’s party culture has changed,” wrote Lily Mae Lazarus, a student, in The Tulane Hullabaloo. “This is not to say that partying has stopped. Rather, students adapted to the restrictions on bars and nightclubs in order to continue their beloved college nights out.”
In San Diego, administrators are trying to fix “discriminatory practices” in the public school grading system, which have gotten worse during the pandemic.
In San Francisco, public schools won’t reopen to students for the rest of this calendar year, in part because of limited testing capacity.
In Texas, vulnerable high school students might postpone going to college. “School was very rough for me and I barely passed because I didn’t feel like there was a point,” Gabriella Munoz, 18, told The Dallas Morning News. “The only thing I wanted to do was to go to work and make money because I can look at the money, I can use the money.”
In Boston, thousands of public school students can’t access dental care.
In the Chicago area, some schools are closing almost as soon as they reopen.
The news site The 74 compared how much actual instruction time students are getting this fall to standard school years. It’s not pretty.
A dose of sea-turtle optimism
Earlier this month, we asked to hear from students on how they’re making it through the semester.
“I’ve heard that the sea turtle hatchlings are thriving since the beaches closed for COVID. That is great! I like sea turtles. I care about them. If you know how much they’ve suffered in the past and compare their sufferings with ours, this semester is really not that bad.” Jade Chiang, 7, a second grader in San Diego.