COVID-19 Roundup: Flurry of Universities Go Virtual

The University at Albany shifts to remote classes for the rest of the fall, Bucknell and Tompkins-Cortland pivot for a week, and Syracuse will go virtual next week through the end of the term.

November 10, 2020

As coronavirus cases continue to hit record levels in many parts of the United States, a growing number of colleges and universities appear to be unable to hold off outbreaks of their own.

Several more colleges and universities announced late Sunday or Monday that they would abandon in-person classes either temporarily or for the rest of the semester, while others imposed other sorts of restrictions on student activity. Among the latest developments:

The University at Albany, part of the State University of New York system, announced that it would go into "full pause" today. University officials said they had done surge testing late last week amid an increase in presumptive cases, and that about 3.3 percent of about 3,400 tests undertaken had come back positive.

Albany officials said the institution would immediately move to fully remote learning for the rest of the fall term, and that while the campus would remain physically open, all campus gatherings and common seating would be eliminated, and all activities -- including athletics -- would be halted.

"While we had hoped to finish the fall semester as we started, we were also prepared to move to fully remote learning, and the time has come," President Havidán Rodriguez said. "We are taking this step in an abundance of caution to further protect the health and safety of our campus community."

Tompkins-Cortland Community College, also part of SUNY, announced that it would move to a remote learning and work environment for this week. The college said it had been prompted to act by the emergence of 11 positive student cases and by the fact that 70 students and 11 instructors were now in quarantine because of possible exposure.

Bucknell University president John C. Bravman said late Sunday that the Pennsylvania private institution would shift to remote learning for this week because of a spike in positive cases to 26 (see chart at right).

Bravman said all students would be tested this week and stressed that the campus was not on lockdown, but said athletics and other extracurricular activities would be canceled.

The president noted the hard work that has made the in-person fall possible to date and said he was "proud we have been able to get this far. And I am so grateful. Large numbers of you have written to me with similar appreciation." But he said he was "disappointed in some of the choices a small fraction of you have made, especially downtown behavior that we believe has contributed to this current situation."

Syracuse University announced Monday that it was experiencing a "troubling increase" in COVID-19 cases, mostly attributable to cases rising in the surrounding community and to the "understandable fatigue but ill-advised complacency on the part of some in our community who are not fully adhering to public health guidelines."

University officials said they would continue to hold in-person classes this week but would pause many other on-campus activities: in-person dining, all student-led and university-sponsored activities, and Greek life activities. The one major category of student activity that is exempted: participation in intercollegiate athletics, since doing so would presumably bring an end to the university's football season.

Syracuse administrators also said they would shift to all virtual learning starting next Monday, Nov. 16.

The University of Pittsburgh said late Sunday that because of a spike of about 40 cases that it suspects were linked to Halloween weekend gatherings, it would move to an "elevated risk" level and a shelter-in-place order. In-person instruction would largely continue, though. (See Inside Higher Ed's map and database of fall reversals here.)

Reversals in Colleges' Fall 2020 Reopening Plans

Scores of colleges and universities have in recent weeks changed the plans they set last spring for reopening their physical campuses this fall. This tracker and searchable database shows how those changes have unfolded over time.

View Inside Higher Ed’s Live Data Tracker »

Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania also plans to close out its semester virtually after cases continued to spike on the campus, Erie News Now reported.

The university had announced last week that it would suspend in-person instruction temporarily.

COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the fall college football season.

The Southeastern Conference announced Monday that next Saturday's game between Auburn University and Mississippi State University would be postponed because of positive tests within Mississippi State's football program.

Texas A&M University said its football program would pause activities because of "multiple" positive tests there.

And subsequent sports seasons continue to be affected, as well.

The Patriot League's Council of Presidents said Monday that the Northeastern conference's men's and women's basketball teams would not play any games outside of the conference this winter, to reduce the amount of travel for athletes and employees.

"No teams will be permitted to fly to games. Instead of the league’s traditional double round-robin format, teams will play an increased number of games against League opponents in closer geographic proximity," the league said in a statement.

And the Liberty League, a conference of private colleges in New York that competes in Division III, said Monday that it would cancel its winter sports seasons, citing COVID-19 spikes nationally and in its members' communities.


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