Fall semester is in full swing, with colleges across the country going back to school amidst coronavirus (COVID-19) worry in many states. While each state has its own regulations and re-opening plans set in hopes to avoid a second COVID-19 spike, each college is handling things a little differently as well. Everyone has a plan, but the big question is: will that plan work? Or will students be quarantined in dorms until winter break?
I talked to five college students at different universities across the country to get a better idea of how universities are handling this very uncertain semester.
Are your classes in-person, online, or a mix of both?
Bobbie — For the first month of classes, we have been completely online, with only off-campus students back in Oxford. However, starting on September 21, we begin having in-person classes and all on-campus students that are planning to move in will be moved in.
However, most classes are still remaining online whether that be by the requirement of the school or by choice of the teacher. Most classes that are planning to meet partially or fully in-person are labs and studio classes. Students have been given the option to have classes fully online or partially online and while that comes with some problems (those with art/music/research requirements don't really have the fully-remote option), it is mostly seeming to work well for all.
Alex — My classes are a mix of online and in-person and some of my individual classes are even hybrid. I have a few classes that are entirely online, and most of them are asynchronous. I have a class that is entirely online but meets on Zoom since it is a discussion-based class. I also have classes that meet online one day a week and we attend the other day a week, where the class is split in half, so if it was Tuesday/Thursday half attend Tuesday and half attend Thursday's lecture. I have one class that only meets in person.
Jen — I have three online classes, one in-person class, and one hybrid (AKA simulcast) class that I have elected to take fully online.
Lauren — My classes are mainly online, but one of my courses meets in person on Tuesdays and online on Thursdays.
Madison — I have four classes completely in-person. Both of my education classes are online and asynchronous, so we are given the modules and textbooks. Most of my friends, however, have only one or two in-person classes.
What COVID-19 precautions have been put into place on your campus?
Bobbie — Most classes are not on campus, so that reduces contact. Besides that, when inside buildings on campus, everyone is required to wear face masks. Exemptions must be given through our Students with Disabilities Center. We are also required to wear masks near entrances and exits to buildings which will likely mean that students just wear them throughout campus.
Additionally, groups of 10 or more outside of classes are not permitted. Dining halls are only giving to-go food, but it can be eaten outside. Students are asked to mostly stay in dorms or outside and try to keep a small bubble of friends. Even inside dorms students will be required to wear masks when in common areas. After using common area tables, chairs, etc. students are asked to wipe them down. If any students violate COVID-19 policies, on or off-campus, they can be held to disciplinary action.
Alex — My campus has a set of students on campus called Protect Purdue Ambassadors (I am one of them) that hand out masks and equipment. They have the responsibility to identify problem areas on campus and highlight them to ensure that there are changes. Other precautions include required masks for any indoor seating, separation of 3–6 feet between indoor seating, wipes and hand sanitizer throughout campus, and takeout style meals for dining. They pretty much expect you to wear your mask unless you are in your home, your car, or you are outside and are able to be socially distanced.
They also instructed that there would be fines and penalties assigned to breaking the rules. They have recently started doing random COVID-19 testing to determine where the disease seems most prevalent on campus, and our free flu shot clinics are now open and required for on-campus students. Students who are reported for being in attendance at parties can be suspended. They made some smaller residence hall rooms singles, instead of trying to fit two people in, and rooms that have more than one person have been organized for social distancing. They are limiting the number of guests on campus, and are limiting the number of people allowed in labs. They have also made it where you have to have an appointment to be allowed to workout, and workout equipment is extremely spaced out.
Jen — All chairs are at least six feet apart in classes, dining halls, and study classes. Where chairs cannot be six feet apart (for example, on opposite sides of a table), there is a plexiglass barrier. All queuing areas have social distance indicators and there are plexiglass guards between customers and cashiers.
Dorm rooms are only allowed to be at double occupancy (a dorm that houses four people can have a total of eight people in it) at any given time and if there are any guests, all occupants must wear masks. They recently began conducting surveillance testing of the university population where students are randomly selected to be tested. No gatherings of more than 25 people are allowed to take place.
Lauren — My university has taken some of the most strict precautions in the nation. At the beginning of the semester, all students were given a kit with two masks, a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, a pack of 60 alcohol wipes, and a clean key (which is my latest obsession). All undergraduate students are required to test twice per week (at least every four days) or we will be locked out of all university buildings at 11:59 p.m. at the end of the fifth day. Some bars are even requiring proof of a negative test.
We are supposed to use an app called "Safer Illinois." This shows a pass with our photo ID and whether or not we are allowed into buildings. Additionally, this app has the capacity to track whether we have been in contact with people who have tested positive in the last 14 days so we can know whether or not to get tested for exposure. Very few classes are in person, but the in-person portion of the semester will end at Thanksgiving break.
Madison — All students, faculty, and staff must wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times unless they are eating or drinking or in their dorms. Professors reserve the right to cancel a class if a student refuses to properly wear a mask. Our in-person classes are scheduled so that no more than a third of the student body is on campus at any time. We must all complete a daily screening questionnaire on an app called Veoci before we come to campus each day including questions such as if we have any COVID-19 symptoms if we have been exposed to anyone with symptoms, and if we intend to come to campus, among other questions.
Many of our common areas are closed, and all classrooms, lecture halls, and other spaces where people congregate have signs marking where we can and cannot sit. There are markers to stand if we are addressing a professor so we are six feet apart, as well as directional markers for social distancing. At all events, there is a cap to the number of participants, so we have to pre-register, masks are required, and if food is given, it is served in a sealed container. Buses are sitting room only and masks must be worn.
There are no outside guests (no non-residential guests) permitted in the residence halls, so visitors must meet in a common area, such as the dining hall. Parents and outside guests are not permitted in our dorms for the entirety of the fall semester, and we are limited to one residential guest per room. There are only two people allowed in the elevator at a time.
Do you think these precautions are enough?
Bobbie — Besides not having students in person at all, I think our school is doing a good job of creating COVID precautions. Now it is up to us, the students, to follow them and up to the school to actually hold students accountable when the rules are not followed.
Alex — I think the precautions are ideal, however, they are not actually enforcing any of the rules so it doesn't really seem like it matters.
Jen — There are a lot of rules and a lot of precautions in place but they are working so far so I think they are all necessary.
Lauren — These precautions may seem like a lot, but I think they are absolutely necessary to stay open. I feel safe on campus knowing most (but not all, unfortunately) students are following the same rules I am.
Madison — I think the precautions are enough from the university standpoint, especially in comparison to the stories I have heard from my friends who attend other universities, (many of whom have already been sent home). It is ultimately up to the students to protect each other and consider the long-term implications of complying with the rules or simply disregarding them. The university itself has been incredibly transparent with the rules and guidelines expected of students, as well as having constant reinforcement. Our resident assistants make rounds and make citations of people outside of their dorms without masks on and there are always professors, staff, and other students who vocalize the expectations surrounding COVID-19. They have also started requesting IDs if they assume that there is a guest in the dorms. There are also three isolation floors for people suspected of having COVID-19 in the village where I live as a freshman.
Is your campus social life different because of COVID-19?
Bobbie — Our campus social life is a little different and there are significantly fewer people partying. However, I think that's only due to bar restrictions and gathering amount restrictions. I would expect there to be a much bigger party scene still if these precautions weren't already put in place at state and local levels. When in town, I rarely see students wearing masks while walking down the sidewalk, which, according to our new Miami regulations, should be required, even though it's off-campus.
Alex — Campus life is definitely different. We don't have athletics at the moment, so that really changes things. There are still parties, although people have to be considerably more secretive about the parties because parties aren't allowed on campus, and aren't supposed to be occurring. Students have been suspended or expelled because of attendance or planning parties. Clubs are limited and activities tend to be virtual. However, Protect Purdue Ambassadors, Purdue Student Union Board, and other Purdue clubs have been planning large scale social distancing events. Plus, the campus just seems so quiet because people can't congregate inside libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, and even outside.
Jen — Yes, it is vastly different. People still break the rules to throw parties but university officials are on top of any reports of rule breaks and have been strict about punishment. I have been pleasantly surprised by the creative ways people have been socializing. My university infamously supplied us all with portable chairs so people have been utilizing them to sit outside and socialize. We are allowed to have some guests to prevent complete isolation, but no one outside of the university is allowed to visit.
Lauren — People are still partying (which actually led to a mini campus lockdown and has caused students to face fines from the city and suspensions from the university) and going to bars. However, some bars are trying to remain safe by using the "Safer Illinois" app. Friends still seem to be seeing each other in small groups. The biggest change has been that both Champaign and Urbana (the two cities our campus covers) have blocked indoor dining entirely in Campustown and have required all diners to be seated, so bars have taken over our main street with outdoor seating in the road.
Madison — Two fraternities on our campus were caught partying and the university suspended these fraternities from recruitment and any further activity for this semester. There are still several university-sponsored activities organized by our programming board where students must pre-register, socially distance, and wear masks. Examples include the Welcome Back Block Party and Pasta and Painting. There are also several Zoom events and events that are broken into smaller sections of people to allow for social distancing measures.
Are you required to wear a mask everywhere on campus?
Bobbie — We are required to wear masks in all buildings and outside when social distancing cannot be obtained (eg. near entrances and exits or high-traffic areas).
Alex — You are required to wear a mask indoors at all times and then can only be without a mask if you are outdoors while being able to maintain social distancing, or if you are in your own residence or car.
Jen — Yes.
Lauren — Yes! Masks are required, even outside, if you are going to be around other people. However, not everyone follows this rule, and most only wear their mask to get their COVID tests, go to class, and enter other buildings. I've even gotten used to running at the gym in a mask!
Madison — Yes, it is required and strictly enforced.
Can you get a COVID-19 test on your campus?
Bobbie — Not only can we get COVID tests on campus, but everyone is required to get them. The turn around time for results is 2–4 days, but we aren't required to quarantine during that time. Over the past month, Miami has begun testing all off-campus students randomly and based on if someone you live with has tested positive. This test is required to step foot on campus. Each on-campus student is required to test before they can move in. After taking the test once arriving in Oxford, students are given a wrist band and are required to wear it until the end of move-in-week so that RAs and other staff can be certain that each and every student has been tested. These tests are paid for through our insurance and Miami covers any additional costs. If someone is experiencing COVID symptoms and wants a test, the student might incur costs.
Alex — You can get a test on campus at any point, and they are also doing random tests. I don't know how long the turnaround in, I think it varies.
Jen — Yes, but I'm not sure of the turnaround time or the exact criteria.
Lauren — Yes! Our university has created its own saliva-based COVID test that undergraduates are required to get twice per week (graduate students, faculty, and staff only need to go once per week now). The results are guaranteed to come back in 48 hours unless there is a problem, but they usually come back in 5–24 hours.
Madison — They offered free testing when we first moved in that was optional. They had separate times for asymptomatic testing, where results were given in 2–4 business days, and symptomatic testing, where they utilized the rapid tests and had results within fifteen minutes.
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Do you know anyone on your campus who tested positive for COVID-19?
Bobbie — I actually don't currently know anyone at my school who has tested positive. However, our COVID Dashboard shows that we have had over 1,200 cases since testing began less than a month ago.
Alex — I don't know anyone who has personally tested positive, but our university has a dashboard where we can access the number of positive cases and the number of quarantine beds that have been used on campus.
Jen — Yes, a few of my classmates have tested positive.
Lauren — I do not, but our campus was over 1,000 positives by the second week of class. You can check out the latest stats here.
Madison — I do not personally know of anyone who has tested positive, but I have had a friend who was exposed and tested negative. She was able to tell me about the isolation process and the testing turn-around time. Our university also has a website where one can access the number of cases, a modification from our daily email tallies of cases.
What do you think your university needs to do differently in regard to COVID-19?
Bobbie — I certainly think people need to be held more responsible for their actions and Miami should make it clear how people are being punished. We went viral last week for a 20-person party where many of the party-goers had tested positive for COVID-19 and claimed that they weren't disobeying quarantine because they were still in their house. I have yet to hear exactly how these students have been held accountable for their actions.
Alex — I think our campus needs to pay attention to all of the problems and work harder to fix them. I think we live in this denial that everything is fantastic, but I also think that the work that we are doing is limited by the number of people who are willing to work with the university to make sure we can stay.
Jen — I would like to see even more testing done and I would like to see reports of the specific location of confirmed cases both on and off-campus. I do not feel like the university has supplied us with enough information about their contact tracing methods. I am thankful that there is a dashboard in place to provide information about cases and testing numbers.
Lauren — I think the university needs to take into consideration that they are working with a group of 18–23-year-olds. Many will not comply and will still party. Some people at this age see college as their last chance for fun and want to party regardless of the situation (most do not see it this way though!). So, I think if noncompliance was considered so there's room for error, my university would be on the best track!
Madison — I honestly think that the university is doing everything that it can from a logistical point of view. The students must realize for themselves what it means to belong to something greater than themselves and work for the reality that we all want — to stay on campus. This can only happen if the students realize their own personal responsibility. I'm hopeful. I have seen the goodness of people in their compliance with the rules and their acts of kindness, even with a mask on, and I anticipate that this will continue. The parties that have occurred are off-campus, so we ultimately need to realize our responsibility to other students, faculty, staff, and families who may be more vulnerable than us to the virus.
Do you think your university could shut down because of COVID-19?
Bobbie — I find it likely that our campus will shut down, especially if many of the newly arriving students test positive. Truthfully, I'm shocked that we even came back in person, and I can only assume the biggest reason was money.
Alex — I do not think we need to shut down, because we are working really hard to make sure we can stay. I might however be biased in that it's my senior year and have very limited desire to spend my final year of college in my hometown.
Jen — At this point, I think it's highly unlikely. We have been here for a month now and right now there are only 13 active cases. For a school of over 6,500 students, I think that's pretty good! I'm cautiously optimistic and I believe that if we make it through the next two weeks, we will stay the entire semester.
Lauren — Unfortunately, I think it is possible down the line. The university did not take non-compliance into consideration when they made the model, so cases rose dramatically during the second week of classes. Cases did decrease during week three though, so we might have fixed the situation after going into a mini-lockdown for two weeks. However, I do think we have a shot at making it to the end of our in-person semester at Thanksgiving.
Madison — Yes, I think that it is a possibility. The administration has threatened that if off-campus parties continue, the university may need to shut down. However, the university has stated that there are no plans to close the university at this time.
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