As universities begin their fall semesters, many changes have been made in order to ensure the safety of students and faculty amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges that have reopened for in-person learning have put into place policies requiring mask-wearing and encouraging social distancing. However, positive COVID-19 cases among students are still being reported at reopened institutions, including 35 reported cases here at Montevallo. This raises the question, how do UM’s s across the state and the country?
Most colleges within the state followed a similar reopening plan – issuing guidelines on social distancing, lower class density in addition to hybrid and remote learning options and required mask wearing. However, what seems to set these schools apart is the enforcement of these guidelines.
For example, students are supposed to complete a daily Healthcheck at the UAB, the University of South Alabama UM. Out of these three schools, UAB is strictest as students must complete a Healthcheck before being able to enter any building on campus. This has not been enforced at the same level by either USA or Montevallo.
Additionally, the attitude of students differs between the three institutions as well. At UM, mask-wearing, for the most part, is complied with. However, social distancing measures are not as strictly followed.
However, no other college in Alabama has been as affected by COVID-19 than the UA. The number of cases at UA increased exponentially shortly after the start of the semester, and currently stands at 2,342 positive cases, about 6% of the student population.
This number is compared to 203 positive cases (1.2%) at UAB; 28 positive cases (0.3%) at UAH; 588 positive cases (2.2%) at Auburn; and 35 positive cases (1.5%) at UM.
The number of positive cases at UA can be attributed to large off-campus gatherings, which prompted the city of Tuscaloosa to close all bars for two weeks, in addition to increased monitoring of off-campus residences, Greek housing and restaurants to ensure that social distancing guidelines are being followed.
Outside UA, many colleges, such as the University of California system, did not return for in-person instruction for the fall semester. Other institutions that did return for in-person classes have been grappling with skyrocketing numbers of cases, similar to UA. After having 130 students test positive for COVID-19 within the first week of classes, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pivoted from offering in-person classes to being fully remote.
Overall, the return to college campuses across the country has been met with varying levels of success, even when many universities have followed similar reopening and safety plans. There appears to be a correlation with the number of positive cases and how strictly enforced guidelines outlined in reopening plans are being followed.