COVID-19 Roundup: Outbreaks at Berkeley, Fall Sports Changes

Fraternities spark COVID-19 spread at UC campus; two leagues forgo fall sports, Big Ten will compete only internally; Wells will open in the fall.

July 10, 2020
 

The latest news about the coronavirus's impact on college and university campuses includes outbreaks related to fraternity life at one major university and more changes in universities' plans for fall sports.

Spike in Greek-Related Cases at Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, health services reported 47 new positive COVID-19 cases over the last week, its largest spike since the start of the pandemic, university officials told students and staff members in a July 8 message. A “majority” of the confirmed cases were traced to recent parties in the university’s fraternities and sororities, where students were not following public health guidelines such as social distancing or wearing face masks, the message said.

Anna Harte, medical director of UC Berkeley Health Services, and Guy Nicolette, assistant vice chancellor, urged students not to attend large parties and not to socialize indoors with people who are not part of their households. Before this recent spike, health services had only seen 23 positive COVID-19 cases among students since the start of the pandemic, Harte and Nicolette said. The trend is concerning to university officials as they prepare to bring more students and staff members back to campus in the fall, the message said.

“At the rate we are seeing increases in cases, it’s becoming harder to imagine bringing our campus community back in the way we are envisioning,” the message said. “The increase in cases across the country and locally are a powerful reminder of how contagious this disease is and how quickly the disease can spread.”

-- Greta Anderson

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Conference-Only Play in the Big Ten: The Big Ten conference, which includes dominant NCAA Division I football programs such as Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State Universities, announced that if fall sports proceed this year, teams will only be competing within the conference. Summer workouts for athletes in the conference will also continue to be voluntary, said a July 9 release from the Big Ten.

The conference is the first of the "Power Five" conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which includes the nation’s top football programs, to announce a limited 2020 fall sports season in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ohio State’s most recent round of COVID-19 testing found positive cases in seven of its athletics programs, including football and men’s and women’s basketball, which prompted the university to pause athletic workouts on July 8, USA Today reported.

The Ivy League announced the same day that it would postpone all fall sports competition until 2021. A similar possibility remains for fall sports in the Big Ten, the conference’s release said.

“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” the release said.

-- Greta Anderson

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Several colleges and conferences have joined the Ivy League in deciding not to compete in intercollegiate sports this fall. As part of its plan for a partial fall reopening of its campus, Case Western Reserve University said Wednesday that its officials had "determined that fall season varsity and club athletic competition cannot take place safely." The Cleveland-based university said it had consulted with its peers in the far-flung Division III University Athletic Association, which said that it had become "regrettably apparent that holding onto a mandated UAA schedule is no longer viable … While we will continue to try to maintain UAA playing relationships as a priority, each UAA institution needs the flexibility to find additional local sport partners with which to compete, as they are able."

On Thursday, meanwhile, officials with two Division II conferences of historically black colleges and universities, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, said they had decided to cancel their fall sports seasons. Officials of the Southern league said that despite hopes that competition could resume, league officials said, "as COVID-19 infections surge throughout the country in general and the southeastern region in particular, it would be difficult to fairly and responsibly conclude that meaningful progress has been made at this time."

The commissioner of the Central association, Jacqie McWilliams, said, “This was a difficult decision but remains consistent with our long-standing priority of always acting in the best interest of our student athletes, coaches and support staff. While there will be no athletic competition in the fall, we will continue to support opportunities that enhance the experiences of our student- athletes, member institutions and partners.”

-- Doug Lederman

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Wells College, which had been teetering on the edge of closure amid the coronavirus pandemic, will forge ahead with its plans to reopen this fall. 

The college has raised enough money to sustain operations for the fall semester. On Wednesday, the Board of Trustees voted to approve the college’s 2020-21 operating budget. 

“Through inspired and truly unprecedented generosity, better-than-anticipated enrollment, and a very generous zero-interest bridge loan from an anonymous foundation, we now have the confidence to continue our drive toward our $7.5 million financial goal, and to push ahead with the opening of the college for residential instruction this fall,” Jonathan Gibralter, Wells College president, told students, faculty and staff Thursday morning.

In the spring, Wells College said it could be forced to close if it wasn’t able to reopen in the fall. The college plans to bring students back to campus in August.

-- Emma Whitford

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