Colleges and universities across the country are making vastly different choices regarding the spring 2021 semester. Many, as a precaution against COVID-19, are already choosing online instruction as cases spike among young adults.
A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that weekly COVID-19 cases among young adults aged 18 to 22 increased by 55% from Aug. 2 to Sept. 5, a time during which many students went back to school.
Although it is reported that there are over 130,000 cases of COVID-19 in U.S. colleges and universities alone, schools are welcoming students back to campus. Many are planning on in-person instruction in the spring, according to a tracking system by The New York Times.
Other schools, however, are already announcing their decisions to stick with remote learning throughout the spring. Recently, the California State University system announced it will be entirely remote for the spring semester. The Cal States make up the largest public university system in the nation. This fall, 400 students at San Diego State and 27 students at Chico State tested positive for COVID-19, causing campus closures and stay-at-home orders for students.
UCLA also announced that it will likely not open its campus for the spring. It released a plan stating that reopening will be based on an effective vaccine being available for students and faculty. However, UCLA did reopen its campus to students, at reduced capacity on Sept. 25.
These decisions come after the director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, forecasted that the majority of the American public will not have access to the vaccine until summer 2021.
This prediction, alongside the likely campus closures of the Cal State system and UCLA, calls into question the likelihood of LMU being able to safely reopen before a vaccine is widely available. As of now, LMU has not announced any decisions regarding next semester.
Many schools that are planning on in-person instruction in the spring are taking new precautionary measures against COVID-19. Some large public schools—including Big Ten universities like University of Michigan, Purdue University and Ohio State University—have decided to alter their calendars by canceling the traditional week break for students in the spring.
This alteration is an attempt to prevent travel that could result in furthering the spread of COVID-19 among students once they return back to campus after break.
Even with preventative measures such as limiting travel, the decision to welcome students back to campus may be a dangerous one. The increase in cases among young adults reported by the CDC were the greatest in the Northeast, where cases increased by 144%, and the Midwest, where cases increased by 123%. This likely reflects the COVID-19 cases in schools in that area, many of which have stayed open. The University of Wisconsin, Madison has 2,775 cases alone, according to the same tracking done by The New York Times.
Despite their size, California schools have reported fewer cases than many in the Midwest or the South. According to the same tracking system, California colleges and universities have 3,311 reported cases, with the largest outbreaks at large Cal State or UC schools. The University of Southern California reported 403 cases. LMU stands with just one case, according to the tracker.
With sizable outbreaks across the country and access to a vaccine likely months away for the majority of the population, the decisions colleges and universities make about the viability of in-person instruction for the spring semester will determine the health and safety of thousands of students.