Some universities are reversing reopening plans as COVID-19 spreads

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Colleges are now walking back their reopening plans as COVID-19 cases resurge in many states and students, parents and faculty voice concerns that resuming in-person classes could put people at a high risk of contracting the virus.

Over the summer, many colleges and universities announced plans to bring students back to campus, stating they had a high degree of confidence everyone would be kept relatively safe with social distancing protocols, mask requirements and frequent testing. However, the plan to resume in-person classes is now being challenged by recent increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in more than 20 states, including Arizona, California, Oklahoma and Florida, forcing administrators to rethink their enthusiasm for restarting on-campus instruction.

Brown University announced in July that a limited number of students would be able to able to return to campus beginning in September, with new policies and protocols “founded on the best available guidance and recommendations from medical and public health professionals and agencies.” Brown University President Christina Paxson said that the university’s plan would need to be flexible to adapt to changing health conditions as the school year progressed. But that change came sooner than expected when the university announced Tuesday that in-person undergraduate instruction will be delayed until Oct. 5.

“I want nothing more than to see all of our students back on campus. However, we must make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of the Brown community as well as the greater Providence community,” Paxton said in a letter to students and faculty.\

Across the country, other colleges have made similar last minute decisions to pivot from in-person classes back to remote instruction for the fall semester, including the University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Spelman College, Dickinson College and University of California, Berkeley.

A handful of other universities that have not changed course for the fall semester, meanwhile, are now facing backlash from students and university employees.

More than 500 employees, students, parents and community members at Illinois State University signed a letter to university leadership disagreeing with the decision to reopen the campus and asked that faculty and staff be allowed to continue working remotely. Faculty wrote: “If ISU moves forward hastily, without considering all the ramifications of its actions, it … will be laying the ground for unnecessary sickness, suffering, and death at ISU and in Bloomington-Normal.”

Employees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced that in-person classes will be allowed to resume for the fall semester, but faculty and staff have also demanded the university remain fully online for the fall semester over safety concerns. The university plans to reopen dormitories at 90% capacity on Saturday.

Still other universities, like San Diego State University, have announced a limited number of classes will be allowed to resume on campus in the fall, but have communicated to students and faculty that this decision is subject to change as the pandemic develops.