NEW YORK • Hundreds of New York University (NYU) students and staff waited in line outside a white tent on Tuesday for coronavirus testing ahead of some classes resuming early next month, a scene expected to unfold on many US campuses in coming weeks.
NYU is testing students who have chosen in-person learning, with classes for undergraduates beginning on Sept 2. The university is also giving students the options of remote learning or a blended programme between the two.
Separately on Tuesday, the University of Notre Dame said it would move to online instruction for at least the next two weeks and could move to shut down its campus entirely.
The announcement came as universities across the country are struggling to control fast-growing outbreaks among returning students. On Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved all its undergraduate classes online. And Michigan State University shifted its reopening plans, telling students not to return for the start of classes in two weeks.
New York, once the US epicentre of the pandemic, has an infection rate below 1 per cent, a benchmark for restarting certain activities with social distancing and mask wearing.
Elsewhere in the US, colleges, secondary and primary schools are grappling with the new reality of whether to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.
At some colleges, a coronavirus test site is the first place students must go to when they arrive on campus before heading to their dormitories. They may not enter any other campus buildings until the result comes back negative, which could take several days in some cases.
The University of Notre Dame reported 80 positive results on Monday, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 147 since Aug 3, according to the university’s website.
The results from 418 tests represented a positivity rate of 19 per cent with overall positivity around 16 per cent since Aug 3.
Before returning to campus, all students were tested – only 33 of nearly 12,000 were positive, a rate of only 0.28 per cent.
A university spokesman said a significant number of the confirmed cases were connected to two off-campus parties where students, mostly seniors, did not wear masks or practise social distancing.
In addition to moving classes online, Notre Dame will close public spaces on campus and restrict dorms to residents.
In the Oklahoma university town of Stillwater, the city council met on Monday night to discuss its response to viral videos showing crowded bars and clubs near Oklahoma State University, where in-person classes began on Aug 17.
The videos emerged as Mayor Will Joyce opposed the annual Weedstock music festival set to begin today outside the town, expected to attract thousands.
Schools in parts of the country that have a coronavirus infection positivity rate of more than 10 per cent would be better off easing into the new academic year with virtual classrooms, said top US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci.
Dr Fauci said primary and secondary schools as a default position should try and reopen for the psychological health of children, but no single approach should apply to every school in the country.
The US has more than five million cases of confirmed Covid-19 cases, the highest in the world, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 170,000 reported deaths.
Many colleges have plans to test students who are coming back to campus, even if classes are all remote.
Testing availability on campuses will vary. NYU plans to test a random sampling of students, faculty and staff each week of the autumn semester.
Florida State University has set an “aspirational goal” of giving Covid-19 tests to all faculty, staff and students returning to campus.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said all students living in residence halls will be tested upon arrival and all students partaking in any in-person learning must be tested before the start of the academic quarter on Sept 21.