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Another week in the strange world we've all become accustomed to got off to a rough start Monday with the crashing of Zoom, the videoconferencing platform on which many colleges have come to depend for instruction. The blackout came on what was the first day of classes at many institutions, as our Madeline St. Amour documents elsewhere on Inside Higher Ed today.

That was far from the only major development, though, as COVID-19 cases spiked in Alabama and North Carolina, and Ohio State University and other institutions punished students for violating campus rules regarding social distancing and partying.

Several universities that are reopening their campuses -- and one that has already largely shut down -- reported spikes significant numbers of COVID-19 cases on Monday.

Auburn University reported 207 new positive cases of COVID-19 from last week, including 202 students and five employees. Those numbers are a fivefold increase from the 41 positives cases reported during the previous week. The university has had 545 total positive cases since March.

Students packed bars in downtown Auburn over the weekend, reported. And officials now are investigating reports of students not wearing masks or practicing social distancing in the bars. The state of Alabama has a mask mandate in place until the end of the month.

The University of Alabama system on Monday published a dashboard showing cases at its various campuses. The dashboard reported 531 cumulative cases at the main campus in Tuscaloosa, where officials had previously declined to release the data. 

And the city on Monday closed bars and suspended bar service at restaurants for two weeks, reported, to try to slow the spread of the virus.

“They have made tough decisions, and I appreciate Mayor Walt Maddox and the University of Alabama leadership for tackling a serious problem as quickly as possible,” Kay Ivey, the state's Republican governor, said in a statement.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which sent its students home last week amid the emergence of several clusters of COVID-19 cases, updated its dashboard to show a positivity rate of 31.3 percent last week, up sharply from the previous week. UNC has become the prototype for institutions that have been forced to reassess their plans after attempting to bring large numbers of students back to a physical campus.

The University of Missouri at Columbia reported 159 cases on its first day of classes.

-- Paul Fain

Several colleges joined the cadre of institutions that have suspended students to try to show how serious they are about enforcing their rules on social distancing.

Ohio State University has issued 228 interim suspensions to students for violating new coronavirus-related safety guidelines, WSYX/WTTE ABC 6 has reported.

The university has threatened consequences for students who host gatherings of more than 10 people, where people are not wearing masks or social distancing.

And New York's Marist College suspended 15 students who attended an off-campus party last week, with its officials warning that the institution might have to close if students do not abide by its rules, the Associated Press reported.

-- Lilah Burke and Doug Lederman

Some of the universities that plan to proceed with big-time sports this fall on Monday announced very different approaches to how they will stage those games.

Duke University and the University of Cincinnati said they would start their fall seasons without fans in attendance at home games.

Meanwhile, institutions like the University of Louisville and Georgia Southern University said they would have between a quarter and a third of their normal number of fans in their football stadiums this fall.

-- Doug Lederman

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