Hundreds of New York University students and staff waited in line outside a white tent on Tuesday for coronavirus testing ahead of some classes resuming in early September, a scene expected to unfold on many U.S. campuses in coming weeks.
NYU is testing students who have chosen in-person learning, with classes for undergraduates beginning on Sept. 2. The university in lower Manhattan is also giving students the options of remote learning or a blended program between the two.
New York, once the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, has an infection rate below 1%, a benchmark for restarting certain activities coupled with social distancing and mask wearing.
Elsewhere in the United States, colleges, secondary and primary schools are grappling with the new reality of whether to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.
At some colleges, a coronavirus test site is the first place students must go when they arrive on campus before going to their dorms. They may not enter any other campus buildings until the result comes back negative, which could take several days in some cases.
The University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, on Tuesday reported a spike of 80 positive test results on Monday, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 147 since Aug. 3, according to the university’s website. The results from 418 tests represented a positivity rate of 19 percent with overall positivity at around 16 percent since Aug. 3.
Before returning to campus all students were tested – only 33 of nearly 12,000 were positive, a rate of only 0.28 percent. The university did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on the rise in cases.
The university, with about 8,600 undergraduates, had most students and faculty on campus by Aug. 10 with restrictions on travel, events and visitors.
In the Oklahoma university town of Stillwater, the city council met on Monday night to discuss their response to viral videos showing crowded bars and clubs near Oklahoma State University, where in-person classes began on Aug. 17.
The videos emerged as Mayor Will Joyce opposed the annual Weedstock music festival set to begin on Thursday outside the town, expected to attract thousands.
Schools in parts of the country that have a coronavirus infection positivity rate of more than 10% would be better off easing into the new academic year with virtual classrooms, Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, said on Tuesday.
Fauci said primary and secondary schools as a default position should try and reopen for the psychological health of children, but no single approach should apply to every school in the country.
“To make a statement on one side vs the other and take the country as a whole won’t work — we’re so heterogeneous with the infections,” Fauci told a virtual Healthline conference.
Some U.S. schools have closed almost as quickly as they welcomed back students as the level of new cases per day remains high in many states, including California, Florida and Texas.
The United States has more than 5 million cases of confirmed coronavirus infections, the highest in the world, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 170,000 reported fatalities.
Many colleges have plans to test students who are coming back to campus, even if classes are all remote. Testing availability on campuses will vary.
NYU plans to test a random sampling of students, faculty and staff each week of the fall semester, adding up to several thousand tests per week.
Florida State University has set an “aspirational goal” of giving COVID-19 tests to all faculty, staff, and students returning to campus. Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said all students living in residence halls will be tested upon arrival and all students partaking in any in-person learning must be tested before the start of the academic quarter on Sept. 21.
Reporting by Mike Segar and Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty and Aurora Ellis