It’s been a roller-coaster of a summer, with society turned upside-down by the pandemic. We’re likely in for more whiplash this fall. Case in point: College campuses that reopened after months of diligent preparation (costing millions of dollars) are already shutting down.

At UNC alone, confirmed cases skyrocketed from 10 to more than 400 in less than three weeks. The percentage of positive test results among students on campus has already spiked to nearly 14 percent. (By comparison, the statewide rate is 7 percent.) NC State likewise shut down in-person classes, moving back to remote learning after more than 500 students were quarantined due to COVID exposure.

Swifter than expected

Both schools had invested significant time and money into reopening. UNC crafted a detailed “Roadmap” in May, attempting to beat the anticipated fall surge by opening early. The plan established detailed “Community Standards” for in-person learning and life on campus. Outbreaks quickly spread despite apparent widespread compliance with those standards.

Most cases are clustered around certain housing units. In one residential building on campus, 10 percent of residents were positive.

NC state spent nearly $2 million ahead of its short-lived reopening. Its outbreaks are linked to Greek houses, off-campus housing and large parties, according to school officials.

While the possibility of reclosure was on the radar, UNC officials were “surprised by the velocity and the magnitude of the spread.” They’re far from alone. Notre Dame – whose president penned a passionate op-ed in May encouraging colleges to reopen despite the risk – has already shut down for two weeks following an outbreak.

A far-reaching impact

The impact of these outbreaks stretches far beyond the college community. In the rush to leave campus, students risk spreading it to their parents – not to mention the broader community – back home. Meanwhile, Governor Cooper has postponed reopening public schools until September.  Phase 2 of the reopening plan (shutting down bars, gyms and other indoor venues) will also remain in place until at least September.

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