Over the chaotic fall semester, tens of thousands of students contracted coronavirus, and returning to campus in the new year looks equally daunting.
While the virus is rampant in the U.S., following a turbulent fall semester in which tens of thousands of students contracted the Covid 19 virus, most colleges will reopen to students in January and February.
Strategies to prevent the spread of the virus varied widely from campus to campus without national guidance for how colleges could proceed during the pandemic.
Most schools had some sort of hybrid semester in which students lived on or near campus with some in-person components and took most of their classes online. Training methods ranged from compulsory testing to testing only for those who wanted to take it for all students.
Some schools expelled students who breached the rules of Covid 19, while others had trouble regulating students who were living off campus.
Most of the requisite masks were sold and even sold in vending machines.
But by the end of the fall, it became apparent that the number of students on campus and the location of the college always dictated the ability to monitor the spread of the virus, regardless of the techniques a college employed.
During the fall semester at the University of Michigan, which has more than 40,000 students, there were more than 3,000 cases of the virus. Elayna Swift, a university student, could tell that the school was having difficulty with social events – a fight that many schools share.
“During the day, walking around campus, there seemed to be a pretty good consensus that everyone should wear masks and keep their distance,” Swift said. “But once it got dark, people went to restaurants and bars if they were open, or parties, indoors or out. People stopped caring, took off their masks and crowded in and did what they wanted.”
It was the largest public universities in the nation that had the most cases of Covid 19 in the fall, especially because they are located in the states most affected by the virus.
During the fall semester, more than 4,000 cases among students were reported by the University of Florida, which has more than 50,000 students.
More than 5,500 cases were registered by Ohio State University, which has more than 60,000 students.
The University of North Dakota has around 14,000 students, and as the virus ravaged the state, the campus reported more than 1,500 cases.
These three schools were not alone in their high case counts: more than 1,000 cases were registered by at least 85 colleges around the country, while more than 680 campuses had at least 100, The New York Times estimates.
Meanwhile, during the fall semester, a handful of campuses, mainly small liberal arts colleges, had only around a dozen events. For instance, out of a student population of 1,800, Colby College in Waterville, Maine, had 15 cases.
During the fall semester, Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, New York, had seven cases among its 1,600 students.
Research has generally shown that college reopenings have led to the spread of Covid-19, in particular when campuses reopened early in the fall, despite the low number of cases at some schools. While the spike in cases tapered off as students settled on campus, as the entire country saw a rise in cases, many colleges saw an increase towards the end of the semester.
Public health experts also point out that travel can lead to the spread of the virus, even with the utmost caution.
Many colleges plan to introduce “entrance tests,” to limit this risk, in which students are screened before arriving on campus and asked to stay home if they test positive.
Testing at the beginning of and during the semester is a crucial method for colleges to learn how and where the virus spreads on campus, but many schools face testing limitations, mainly due to testing-related costs.
Some only give testing to students who show symptoms or who volunteer to be tested, especially the larger public state universities.
Meanwhile, some smaller, wealthier schools require every week that all students be tested.
“The testing is paid for by many universities. It is a very costly undertaking.
Schools that are not as well prepared have a great deal of difficulty financing the exams, staffing for di