COVID-19 Roundup: Local Authorities Step Up Pressure

Local authorities pressure colleges amid outbreaks.

August 26, 2020

As campus cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, local government and health authorities are closely scrutinizing the colleges and universities in their backyards -- and in some cases imposing limitations on them and their students.

Just in the last 48 hours:

  • The health department in Butler County, Ohio, where Miami University is located, has quarantined all of the university's athletes who have returned to the campus, after 27 athletes from various teams tested positive for COVID-19, the university announced. The quarantine was designed to ensure that all of the athletes were included in contact tracing. The university's statement said that many of those athletes had attended an off-campus party. Miami began its fall semester last week with all undergraduates studying remotely, but first-year students are due to return in mid-September and face-to-face instruction to resume soon after.
  • The city council in Newark, Del., home of the University of Delaware, on Monday night passed an emergency ordinance limiting gathering at private homes to 12 people indoors and 20 outdoors, the Delaware News Journal reported. Proponents of the measure, which was hotly debated and actually defeated once before passing, cited major COVID-19 outbreaks in college communities where students have returned en masse and sometimes flouted local restrictions. The University of Delaware is planning mostly virtual instruction and campus housing is mostly off-limits, but as at many large universities, some students are expected to live off campus.
  • The city council in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the University of Michigan's main campus is located, enacted an emergency ordinance making existing requirements on wearing face masks and limiting the size of public gatherings civil infractions punishable by a fine, rather than a misdemeanor crime with possible jail time, reported. "As we know, the students have arrived, they’re back and it’s a scary situation out there," said one council member, Ali Ramlawi, according to the news site.
  • A group of local officials in Madison, Wis., wrote top officials at the University of Wisconsin's flagship campus there asking them to move most instruction online and to close most residence halls, citing what they called an "inevitable outbreak," the Wisconsin State Journal reported. “Why bring everyone back to campus until the inevitable outbreak, which will require a vast amount of public health resources to address, and the potential spreading of the virus to multiple communities?” the letter said.

-- Doug Lederman

In most if not all cases, officials in these cities and towns are citing significant campus outbreaks elsewhere, and pressure from campus towns is likely to accelerate as long as COVID-19 counts mount -- which they continued to do Tuesday.

Georgia College and State University, which last year enrolled about 7,000 students, reported 373 cases, overwhelmingly students, as of Monday. That's roughly 5 percent of the student body, and reportedly nearly a quarter of its students are in quarantine.

Iowa State University reported that its positivity rate had shot up. A cumulative 3.4 percent of the more than 10,000 people tested from July 1 to Aug. 23 tested positive, but 13.6 percent of the 957 students and employees tested during the first week of classes were positive for COVID-19.

The University of Miami published a dashboard showing how many cases, tests and hospitalizations had occurred over the previous week -- but no cumulative totals. The dashboard on Monday showed 141 cases from Aug. 16 to Aug. 22, and on Tuesday showed 96 positive tests from Aug. 17 to Aug. 23. The overall positivity rate remained at about 5 percent.

The University of Southern California resumed classes one week ago, with most of its courses offered online. Residence halls have remained largely closed and the university told students they should not return to Los Angeles for the fall term. Despite these efforts, the university has reported 43 COVID-19 cases among students living in off-campus housing. Over 100 students are now in quarantine due to exposure, according to a memo from Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health.

"This increase comes despite the continued State and County health guidance that significantly restricts in-person instruction and on-campus activities for universities located in counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list, including Los Angeles County," Van Orman wrote. "For students who remain on or near campus in shared living arrangements, we strongly advise you to act with caution and strictly follow all guidelines for physical distancing (6 ft.), avoiding gatherings with others outside your home, wearing face coverings around others to protect against respiratory droplets and proceed with high adherence to hand hygiene and frequent surface contact cleaning."

-- Lilah Burke and Doug Lederman


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