COVID-19 Roundup: ‘Circuit Breakers’ to Stop Virus’s Spread

Several more universities pause in-person instruction to stem spread of virus, as such moves spur decreases elsewhere. Study estimates sizable role of in-person instruction in local outbreaks. Most NCAA fall championships will be played in the spring.

September 23, 2020
 

The temporary pause in in-person instruction -- or what the University of Utah is calling a "circuit breaker" -- has become the new favored tactic of colleges and universities trying to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Several more institutions embraced the strategy in the last few days, as a few colleges that had done so previously announced that they were resuming in-person instruction after seeing declines in COVID-19 cases.

The University of Colorado at Boulder said Monday that it would begin two weeks of remote instruction today, hoping to double down on promising results it had seen from a recommended stay-at-home period it announced last week.

Chancellor Phil DiStefano said that all undergraduate, graduate and law classes would be taught remotely "at least" through Oct. 7, including labs and other hands-on classes unless approved for on-campus teaching by a dean.

"Your collective effort to comply with the student self-quarantine period is helping us bend the curve in our favor," DiStefano said. "Let’s prove we can do this and be Buffs together."

The University of Wisconsin at River Falls made a similar announcement Friday, with officials saying they would both shift to online-only course delivery for two weeks and adopt a shelter-in-place policy for on-campus students in conjunction with the local public health department. The university's statement said that after minimal early evidence of COVID-19 on the campus, cases in residence halls had risen as testing had increased.

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 »

COVID-19 isn't the only reason the University of Utah is citing for the two-week suspension of in-person instruction and student services it plans, which it is calling a circuit breaker. While the idea grew from its researchers' assertion that creating a midsemester pause could slow the potential spread of the virus, Utah officials had already been planning for a week of online education next month around the university's hosting of a debate of the U.S. candidates for vice president. The debate will significantly disrupt campus operations.

Numerous colleges say that temporary suspensions of in-person instruction have helped them reduce their COVID-19 caseloads.

James Madison University announced last Friday that it would resume some in-person instruction on Oct. 5, after having said on Sept. 1 that it would move virtually all classes into an online format amid "troubling" public health trends.

The university said its seven-day average of cases has dropped since peaking on Sept. 6, although its officials acknowledged that the health center is only testing students who are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone with the virus.

Madison officials said their plan for returning to campus has been modified to restrict classes of 50 or more students, among other things.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte announced Tuesday that it, too, would resume some in-person instruction, on Oct. 1.

"The ongoing decline in Mecklenburg County’s infection rate, coupled with UNC Charlotte’s comprehensive safety protocols, allows the University to move forward with a measured approach to on-campus living, learning and working this fall semester," Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber said.

-- Doug Lederman


A new working paper estimates that reopening college campuses for in-person instruction has been associated with more than 3,000 additional COVID-19 cases per day in the United States.

The researchers found an increase of 2.4 daily cases per 100,000 people in counties with a campus that opened for in-person instruction.

“No such increase is observed in counties with no colleges, closed colleges or those that opened primarily online,” they write.

"The uptick in local COVID-19 incidence was higher in colleges with greater exposure to students from states with high recent COVID-19 case rates. College reopenings that drew students from areas with a 10 percent greater weekly incidence were associated with an additional 1.19 new cases per 100,000 per day."

The lead author of the study, conducted by a group of scholars with expertise in economics, epidemiology and higher education, is Martin Andersen, assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Researchers plan to publish the paper, titled "College Openings, Mobility, and the Incidence of COVID-19 Cases," on a server for preprints (e.g., articles that have not yet been peer reviewed), medRxiv.

-- Elizabeth Redden


The college sports landscape continued to be full of COVID-19-related activity Tuesday.

The University of Notre Dame postponed a Sept. 26 football game against Wake Forest University after seven players on the Fighting Irish team tested positive for COVID-19, Notre Dame's athletics department said in a statement. All football-related activities are on pause “until further testing is completed,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, championships for all Division I fall sports, except competition for the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, will be moved to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday.

The Division I Board of Directors approved a previous plan recommended by the Division I Council to move competition in men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s water polo to 2021. Each of the sports will begin their regular seasons in January or February, according to a release about the council’s proposal.

The board also approved a plan for football teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS, the second tier of college football under FBS, to compete in 2021, the release said. Championship competition between Division I FBS teams, such as those in the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten, is governed by the College Football Playoff.

The FCS and other fall sports championships will operate at a limited capacity compared to a typical year, the NCAA’s Sept. 22 release said. For team sports such as women’s volleyball and field hockey, playoff brackets will be filled to 75 percent of their normal capacity, and the FCS championship bracket will have 16 teams instead of 24, the release said.

The plans allow “the maximum number of opportunities to fall student-athletes to participate in NCAA championships while still being fiscally responsible,” Denise Trauth, acting chair of the Division I Board of Directors and president at Texas State, said in the release.

“We look forward to the spring, understanding things will look a little different but knowing the competitions will be just as meaningful as in normal circumstances,” Trauth said.

-- Greta Anderson

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