Sept. 11, 6:24 a.m. University of Missouri president Mun Choi has removed blocks on his Twitter account from students who were posting criticism of the university’s policies on reopening the campus, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
Choi removed the blocks after a lawyer threatened to sue over them. “Not only is it immoral and repugnant for President Choi to block students and other persons on social media who are trying to raise awareness of campus safety issues in the middle of a global pandemic, it is also unlawful,” the lawyer wrote.
A spokesman for Choi said some of the posts that led the president to block the accounts were obscene.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 10, 7:45 p.m. The California State University system has announced that all 23 of its campuses will continue to offer virtual instruction for the academic term beginning in January 2021.
“After extensive consultation with campus presidents and other stakeholders, and careful consideration of a multitude of factors — regarding the pandemic and its consequences, as well as other matters impacting the university and its operations — I am announcing that the CSU will continue with this primarily virtual instructional approach for the academic term that begins in January 2021, and also will continue with reduced populations in campus housing,” CSU chancellor Timothy P. White announced in a message to the university Wednesday. “This decision is the only responsible one available to us at this time. And it is the only one that supports our twin North Stars of safeguarding the health, safety and well-being of our faculty, staff, students and communities, as well as enabling degree progression for the largest number of students.”
White said the decision was announced now in order to give students and their families time to plan for the spring 2021 semester. He also cited the need to publish and promote course offerings and to meet accreditation requirements for virtual courses.
— Marjorie Valbrun
Sept. 10, 7:55 a.m. The University of Wisconsin at Madison announced Wednesday evening that it would pause in-person instruction for two weeks, citing a positive COVID-19 testing rate that had risen above 20 percent this week.
Much of the increase was driven by off-campus activity, but “the latest numbers also show a sharp increase in certain residence halls,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “We will not contain this spread without significant additional action.”
In addition to the two weeks of fully virtual instruction for undergraduate and graduate students alike, Wisconsin said it would impose a quarantine on two residence halls where positive cases have spiked, close all in-person study spaces at libraries and the student union, and cancel all in-person gatherings of more than 10 people.
“I share the disappointment and frustration of students and employees who had hoped we might enjoy these first few weeks of the academic year together,” Blank said.
— Doug Lederman
Sept. 10, 6:28 a.m. More than 70 professors at Stanford University’s medical school have signed a letter criticizing the “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” by Scott Atlas, a former colleague currently advising President Trump on the coronavirus.
Specifically, the letter defends face masks, social distancing and the development of a vaccine and says that young children can get the virus.
“Failure to follow the science — or deliberately misrepresenting the science — will lead to immense avoidable harm,” the letter says.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 9, 1:30 p.m. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where the number of students with COVID-19 has almost tripled this month, to 612, told students in one of its residence halls Wednesday that they would have to move out to make room for self-isolating peers.
“I recognize that this is unexpected news and that shifting residence halls will disrupt your semester. I am sorry for the disruption, and we are here to support you academically, socially, mentally, and financially,” Frank Cuevas, vice chancellor for student life, said in an email to residents of Massey Hall Wednesday. “I know this is not how you envisioned your semester, and we will work to support you through this. As circumstances evolve on campus we are adjusting our operational plans to help manage through this pandemic, with our top priority being the health and well-being of our campus community.”
Like many major public universities, Tennessee is seeing large numbers of students test positive for COVID-19 and much larger numbers in isolation or quarantine. The University of Tennessee System coronavirus dashboard shows a doubling of the number of students in either isolation or quarantine at the Knoxville campus between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, to 2025 from 990.
Tennessee officials said the hotel they had secured was inadequate to house all the isolating students. They chose Massey for the overflow, they said, because of its size and the fact that it has proportionally few students living there now. The students who live there can choose between either moving to another residence hall on the campus or canceling their housing contract and moving back home. The university said it would provide “supplies and staff” to help students move to another room on the campus, and would “make every effort” to keep roommates together.
— Doug Lederman
Sept. 9, 6:29 a.m. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has restricted students to “essential activities” for two weeks, to control the spread of COVID-19.
The following activities were defined as essential:
- Medical care, including COVID-19 testing
- Purchasing food
- Going to a job
- “Engaging in an individual outdoor activity, such as running or walking”
- Attending a religious service
The university reported an increase in positive test results for the virus.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 9, 6:19 a.m. Florida State University is seeing an increase in the number of students testing positive for the coronavirus, The Tallahassee Democrat reported. More than 700 students tested positive last week.
“Florida State does not plan a shift to remote instruction at this time. If a decision is made to transition to all remote instruction in the future, the university will notify the community,” the university said. “The current increase in cases was not unexpected as it correlates to the marked increase in voluntary testing of the campus community during the first two weeks of the fall semester.”
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 4, 10:20 a.m. As a growing number of colleges and universities struggle to control COVID-19 after resuming in-person instruction, the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative (PRHI) released results of a survey of public health experts and others on how colleges should respond now to outbreaks of the virus. The more than 100 respondents to the survey included physicians, health-care administrators, students and community leaders.
Colleges should conduct daily saliva testing as well as random sample blood/mucosal testing to track the spread, prevalence and incidence of the virus, the survey found. Respondents said colleges also should have contact tracing capacity in place. The survey found that institutions should run crowdsourced symptom monitoring with as many students and employees as possible, using wearable wrist and bed sensor devices. And it said colleges should require students to wear a device to track their movement and notify students when they are not practicing adequate social distancing.
“The safety of our campuses for students, faculty, staff, surrounding neighborhoods and local health personnel requires vigorous and innovative measures. To date, we have not seen a national strategy to address these outbreaks and ensure the safety of those involved with higher education. The suggestions provided through this survey can help universities answer these difficult questions and make decisions based in science and a public health approach,” Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of PRHI, said in a statement.
Masks should be mandatory for students, the survey said. And colleges should use and enforce codes of conduct to encourage social distancing. The survey also said colleges should not penalize faculty members for choosing to work remotely.
The group of respondents said college leaders should close hot spots for transmission, including bars that violate protocols and fraternity homes.
“Close fraternity houses. Period,” the report on the survey’s results said.
Respondents urged college leaders to communicate with their local communities about measures institutions have taken to keep them safe.
“Ask the community how they think the university can be a partner in protecting all,” the report said. “They did not have a voice in campus reopenings, so engage them now.”
The Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative is the operating arm of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and a member of the national Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement.
— Paul Fain
Sept. 4, 9:45 a.m. Pennsylvania State University has issued new information after its director of athletic medicine drew attention this week by saying in a public meeting that about a third of Big Ten Conference athletes who tested positive for the coronavirus showed signs of myocarditis.
The official, Wayne Sebastianelli, made the comments Monday at a local school board meeting about “initial preliminary data that had been verbally shared by a colleague on a forthcoming study,” a Penn State Health spokesman said, according to multiple news outlets. Sebastianelli didn’t know the study had been published with a significantly lower rate of myocarditis — about 15 percent for athletes who had the virus.
Penn State also said that its athletes who’d tested positive for the coronavirus had no cases of myocarditis.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can cut the heart’s ability to pump and cause abnormal heart rhythms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the heart and lead to heart failure, heart attack, stroke or sudden death.
— Rick Seltzer
Sept. 4, 6:25 a.m. The University of Maryland at College Park suspended all athletic activities after a spike in athletes testing positive for the coronavirus, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Maryland said that 501 student athletes were tested for COVID-19 on Monday and Tuesday. Of those, 46 had positive tests. They were on 10 teams.
The Big Ten is not playing games this fall, but has been allowing athletes who have tested negative to practice.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 3, 5:46 p.m. Top House and Senate Democrats are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise colleges to bar e-cigarettes for the fall semester.
In the letter, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House economic and consumer policy oversight subcommittee, and Senator Dick Durbin cited a Journal of Adolescent Health study, which found that 13- to 24-year-olds who vape are five times more likely than nonvapers to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
“With the added public health risk posed by coronavirus, the CDC must act quickly and forcefully,” wrote Krishnamoorthi and Durbin, both of Illinois.
— Kery Murakami
Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m. The United Campus Workers of Louisiana today called for regents to stop face-to-face activities because of the coronavirus.
A statement from the union, which was chartered a year ago and has about 120 members who are graduate workers, faculty members and staff members, focused heavily on the situation at Louisiana State University. LSU has counted a total of 366 positive cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 15, with most coming since Aug. 25.
More information has been learned about the transmission of the coronavirus since the university created its reopening plans, the union said in its statement. It raised concerns about the risk of transmission in enclosed spaces and from people who are not showing symptoms of the infection.
“In light of these facts, reopening a university system that operates in all 64 parishes in Louisiana endangers everyone in the state, particularly the state’s underserved and high-risk populations,” said the union’s statement. “For the safety of the LSU community and the state at large, United Campus Workers of Louisiana calls on the Louisiana Board of Regents to act in accordance with its ‘constitutional mandate to serve the educational, health care and economic development goals of Louisiana’ and immediately halt face to face activities on campus.”
The statement comes shortly after LSU’s interim president, Tom Galligan, said four student organizations have been charged with violating the university’s code of conduct regarding the coronavirus. Video has surfaced that appears to show off-campus parties with few precautions in place.
“We have seen the videos, and they are very concerning,” Galligan said, according to KSLA. “We’re going to investigate, communicate and, as necessary, we’ll enforce.”
Galligan also signaled a high level of concern about the virus’s spread.
“I’m concerned and I’m monitoring and we’re looking at it very carefully, because if it keeps going up, we’re going to go remote,” he said, according to KSLA.
The union does not have a collective bargaining agreement with LSU.
— Rick Seltzer
Sept. 3, 2:43 p.m. The University of Dayton announced this afternoon on its COVID-19 dashboard that the cumulative number of positive cases among students on campus has reached 1,042, including 639 active cases. The rest — 403 students — have recovered.
The private university enrolls roughly 11,500 students, including about 9,000 undergraduates, meaning its total positive cases comprise almost 10 percent of all students. The university’s first day of classes was Aug. 24. UD has created five campus status levels for COVID-19, with level five being to largely vacate the campus and have most students leave on-campus housing. The university reached level four last week, which includes pivoting to remote learning while students stay in on-campus housing. It shifted to remote learning last month when cases spiked.
UD in a statement cited a flattening of seven-day averages for new positive cases as an encouraging sign. It said the university has been aggressive with the testing, isolation and quarantining of students.
“University leaders continue to work closely with local public health officials and UD’s panel of local medical experts to monitor, assess and contain the situation on campus,” the university said. “We will determine next week what steps to take based on the situation and trends we see at that time. While we hope the trends will indicate that we can return to at least some in-person learning, we also may need to consider further restrictions, including the possibility of moving to fully remote learning, if Public Health believes our campus is contributing to broader community spread.”
— Paul Fain
Sept. 3, 1:00 p.m. A potentially dangerous inflammation of the heart muscle was detected in about a third of Big Ten Conference athletes who’d tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Centre Daily Times.
Pennsylvania State University’s director of athletic medicine, Wayne Sebastianelli, shared the estimate at a State College area school Board of Directors meeting Monday, the newspaper reported. MRI scans showed the athletes in question had myocarditis, an inflammation that can be deadly if not addressed.
“When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles [are] inflamed,” Sebastianelli said. “And we really just don’t know what to do with it right now. It’s still very early in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten’s decision to sort of put a hiatus on what’s happening.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed fall sports in August. Both cited uncertainty about college athletes’ health amid coronavirus infections.
But other major football conferences continue to forge ahead with plans to hold modified seasons. That’s led to some pushback, with Nebraska football players filing a lawsuit against the Big Ten. The lawsuit prompted the revelation that the league’s members voted 11 to 3 in favor of postponing the football season. Recently, reports have surfaced that the Big Ten was discussing a season to begin the week of Thanksgiving.
Earlier today, ESPN reported that 21 universities in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference — the three conferences making up college football’s Power Five that plan to play sports this fall — would not disclose data on COVID-19 cases when asked. Almost half of the 65 institutions across all Power Five conferences declined to share data about positive tests recorded to date.
— Rick Seltzer
Sept. 3, 12:15 p.m. Twenty-one institutions in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference declined to disclose positive COVID-19 cases among athletes to ESPN, citing federal student privacy laws, the media outlet reported. These three “Power Five” conferences are all preparing to play football games this month.
Of the 65 total Power Five institutions surveyed by ESPN, nearly one-third did not provide information about their coronavirus protocols for athletes in addition to withholding the number of positive tests among athletes, the outlet reported.
— Greta Anderson
Sept. 3, 9:50 a.m. Four days after announcing a two-week suspension of in-person classes, Temple University in Philadelphia today extended the move for the rest of the fall semester for almost all courses.
Only essential courses — those that require some in-person instruction to meet educational objectives — are not covered by the decision. Temple estimates 95 percent of its courses will be delivered online for the rest of the semester.
Students in university housing who choose to leave by Sept. 13 will receive full refunds of housing and meal plan charges. But students can remain on campus if they want or need to do so.
“We know this is disappointing for the many students and their families who had hoped for an on-campus experience,” said the university’s president, Richard M. Englert, and its provost, JoAnne A. Epps, in a public letter announcing the decision. “Please know that if the data supported a decision to safely continue the fall semester experience on campus, we would have made every effort to do so. Unfortunately, the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are simply too great for our students, faculty, staff and neighboring community.”
Two days ago, Philadelphia’s health commissioner declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Temple. The university’s COVID-19 dashboard listed 212 actives cases as of 1 p.m. yesterday, all among students. All but one were recorded among on-campus students.
Temple began fall classes 10 days ago, Aug. 24.
— Rick Seltzer
Sept. 3, 8:32 a.m. Ohio State University reported 882 positive cases of COVID-19 among students, and 20 positives among employees. Classes began at Ohio State on Aug. 25.
The university has a 3.13 percent positivity rate among students and a 4.3 percent positivity rate average over the last week, according to its dashboard site. But it reported a 9.66 positivity rate for students who live off campus and were tested in the last 24 hours, with a 5.7 percent rate for students who live on campus. The university currently has 462 students in isolation and quarantine.
Ohio State recently suspended 228 students for violating coronavirus-related safety guidelines. And it has threatened to crack down on students who host gatherings of more than 10 people who are not wearing masks or social distancing.
— Paul Fain
Sept. 3, 6:27 a.m. Thirty of the 40 Greek houses at Indiana University are under quarantine for COVID-19, The Indianapolis Star reported.
There is an 8.1 percent positive rate among students living in fraternity and sorority housing. Residence halls have a 1.6 percent positive rate.
All communal houses at Indiana have been ordered to suspend activities, except housing and dining.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 2, 5:50 p.m. The National Collegiate Athletic Association will furlough 600 employees amid severe budget strains due to the pandemic’s impact on college athletics, according to a memo obtained by the Associated Press. The furloughs of three to eight weeks will affect the entire staff of the Indianapolis-based NCAA except for senior executives, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Beginning Sept. 21, all staff members in the NCAA’s national office will be furloughed for three weeks, according to the memo. And some employees will be furloughed for up to eight weeks depending on their jobs and the seasonal timing of their duties. USA Today reported in March that Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, and other top managers were taking pay cuts of 20 percent. That move followed the cancellation of the Division I men’s basketball tournament, which generates nearly all of the NCAA’s roughly $1.1 billion in typical annual revenue, the newspaper reported.
— Paul Fain
Sept. 2, 3:50 p.m. Iowa State University’s announcement Monday that it would let as many as 25,000 fans attend its football season opener Sept. 12 drew both scorn and, as recently as today, support from Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, who said at a news briefing Wednesday that “we can do these things safely and responsibly. We can open our schools back up, we can open our colleges back up, we can continue to move forward, but we have to have personal responsibility.”
But the university’s athletics department announced today that the game will be played without fans after all.
The statement from the athletics director, Jamie Pollard, didn’t exactly embrace the decision, saying that Iowa State president Wendy Wintersteen had reversed the decision “after weighing feedback she has received from the community … Our department has always taken great pride in working hand-in-hand with the university and this situation is no different. We are in this together and will do everything we can to support Dr. Wintersteen and her leadership team in their efforts to lead our institution during very challenging times.”
— Doug Lederman
Of the 821 individuals with reported positive tests, 798 were students, 19 were staff members and four were faculty.
The university’s surveillance testing program of asymptomatic students turned up 97 positive cases out of 1,810 tests conducted, for an overall positivity rate of 5.4 percent.
University of Georgia president Jere W. Morehead described the rise in positive tests as “concerning” and urged students to take steps to avoid exposure.
“I urge you: continue to wear your masks, maintain your distance from others, make wise decisions, and stay away from social venues where appropriate distancing is impossible to maintain,” Morehead said on Twitter. “Resist the temptation to organize or attend a large social gathering. And, for those of you heading out of town over the Labor Day weekend, be very careful and think about the health of everyone around you.”
— Elizabeth Redden
Sept. 2, 12:55 p.m. The health department for Lexington, Ky., has reported that there have been 760 coronavirus cases among students at the University of Kentucky.
The university tested every on-campus student upon arrival, resulting in 254 positive results, and is currently retesting 5,000 members of Greek life organizations.
But it has no current plans to test other students or student populations. University officials have said they are waiting on further data to decide how to proceed, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
— Lilah Burke
Sept. 2, 7:50 a.m. Gettysburg College announced late Tuesday that all of its students must quarantine in their residence halls through at least the end of the week, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus that has infected 25 of 348 students tested through Tuesday afternoon.
“This interim all-student quarantine allows us to better understand the path of the virus on campus, informed by the results of the remainder of this week’s tests,” the dean of students, Julie Ramsey, wrote in a message to the campus. All classes will be remote and students can leave their rooms only to pick up food, use the bathroom or get their COVID-19 test.
Ramsey said college officials would reassess their plan for the rest of the semester at the end of the week.
— Doug Lederman
Sept. 2, 6:28 a.m. James Madison University announced Tuesday that it is abandoning plans for an in-person semester, instead moving to an online September.
President Jonathan R. Alger wrote to students and faculty members that “We spent the last several months planning to start this year with a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online classes. In the days since students have been back on campus, we have observed their vibrancy, excitement to engage with their faculty, and large-scale adherence to COVID-19 rules and guidance. However, we have also observed troubling public health trends. As a result of a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in our student population in a short period of time, the university is concerned about capacity in the number of isolation and quarantine spaces we can provide. Protecting the health of our Harrisonburg and Rockingham County community — including students, faculty, staff — is our top priority, and we need to act swiftly to stop the spread as best we can.”
Alger continued, “After consultation with the Virginia Department of Health, James Madison University will transition to primarily online learning, with some hybrid instruction for accreditation and licensure requirements, graduate research, and specialized upper-class courses requiring equipment and space, through the month of September.”
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 1, 4:15 p.m. The Philadelphia health commissioner on Tuesday said there is a COVID-19 “outbreak” at Temple University and told students to “assume everyone around you is infected,” 6ABC reported.
The university reverted to online instruction on Sunday after reporting 103 people on campus had tested positive for the coronavirus. According to contact tracing, the outbreak stemmed from off-campus apartments and small social gatherings, 6ABC reported.
“For any Temple student who is listening to this today, I want to be really clear, and we are asking you to follow this guidance: you should assume that everyone around you is infected,” Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said during a press conference Tuesday.
— Greta Anderson
Sept. 1, 3:58 p.m. White House officials are worried college students infected by coronavirus will go back to their home communities and spread the disease. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, in a call Monday called on governors to urge college presidents in their states not to send students who test positive for the virus home and to keep them on or near campuses.
Not doing so could lead to another national outbreak, Birx said, according to an aide to one of the governors who was on the call, which included Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Birx cited the University of Wisconsin at Madison as an example. The university has set up housing for students to isolate themselves if they test positive, and for others at high risk of having been exposed to quarantine themselves, so that the rest of campus can continue functioning.
The call was first reported by The Daily Beast. The site quoted Birx as having said, “Sending these individuals back home in their asymptomatic state to spread the virus in their hometown or among their vulnerable households could really recreate what we experienced over the June time frame in the South. So I think every university president should have a plan for not only testing but caring for their students that need to isolate.”
Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, said colleges already are doing what Birx urged. “Any college that brings students back to campus will have a clear plan in place to isolate those who test positive and to provide medical assistance to individuals who need it,” he said. “There is simply no way that a campus would go through the extensive planning related to reopening in the COVID environment — cleaning, testing, tracing and distancing — and fail to ask themselves, ‘How do we isolate and treat students who test positive?’”
— Kery Murakami
Sept. 1, 1:30 p.m. First Colorado College quarantined students in one of its three residence halls for two weeks after a student tested positive for COVID-19. Then the liberal arts college in Colorado Springs had to do the same with its other two residence halls, just as the first residence hall completed its quarantine period.
On Tuesday, college officials conceded that “despite our rigorous testing and response protocols … our earlier plans to bring the rest of our student body to campus … are no longer feasible.” The college plans to deliver classes remotely for the rest of 2020 and require all students not in quarantine to leave campus by mid-September.
Colorado is probably best known for its block scheduling plan, which multiple colleges copied this year presuming that it would give them more flexibility to respond to potential COVID-19-required pivots.
The college’s COVID-19 dashboard shows only three positive cases (out of 1,111 tests), but it has not been updated since last Wednesday. The dashboard showed about a quarter of its 805 students living on campus as being in either quarantine or isolation, again as of last Wednesday.
— Doug Lederman
Sept. 1, 12:30 p.m. More than 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 at Illinois State University roughly two weeks into the fall semester.
The 1,023 cases the university reported as of Tuesday represent nearly 5 percent of its student body, WGLT reported. The university has conducted about 4,400 tests at three locations on campus since Aug. 17, and its testing positivity rate for the last week is 24 percent.
Illinois State is located in Normal, Ill., which has enacted emergency orders aimed at curbing the spread of infections. One of those orders is a temporary ban on gatherings of more than 10 people near campus. The other in part requires customers at bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to be seated to be served.
University leaders say they have moved 80 percent of classes online, are encouraging faculty and staff members to work remotely if possible, and have de-densified dorms. But Illinois State’s on-campus coronavirus testing is reportedly slower and more expensive than tests being used in large numbers at the state flagship, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Illinois State was forced to change its testing strategy after the federal government redirected testing supplies to nursing homes — a series of events that contributed to university leaders deciding to shift plans toward online classes about a month ago, as the start of the semester neared.
— Rick Seltzer
Sept. 1, 6:39 a.m. Scott Atlas, an adviser to President Trump on the coronavirus, said Monday that college football can be played safely during the pandemic, Click Orlando reported.
He said college football players “are among the most fit people in the universe. They’re very low-risk people.”
“They have testing, they have doctors. This is the best possible healthy environment for the healthiest people. And so to start saying that we can’t have these sports when so many people in the community also depend upon the athletes themselves or their families — this shouldn’t really be a point of controversy,” Atlas said.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 Conferences called off the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, but other big-time football conferences are playing this fall.
— Scott Jaschik
Sept. 1, 6:27 a.m. The University of New England, in Maine, is warning students who attended an off-campus party that they will face disciplinary action, News Center Maine reported.
President James Herbert announced the university’s first positive case of COVID-19 and two additional cases among undergraduate students.
Herbert said the cases stemmed from “precisely the situation we have warned students against — a large off-campus gathering without masks and [social] distancing.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 28, 12:30 p.m. Students and staff members at Georgia College staged a protest this morning as the public liberal arts college’s COVID-19 numbers continue to mount.
The “die-in,” which was sponsored by the United Campus Workers of Georgia at GCSU union, featured masked and (mostly) physically distanced students and employees carrying signs such as “I can’t teach if I’m dead” and “I won’t die for the USG,” a reference to the University System of Georgia, of which Georgia College is a part.
UCWGA-GCSU is demanding online learning options for students and instructors, hazard pay, contact tracing, greater diagnostic testing and security from layoffs. The union has said neither testing nor quarantine housing has been provided by the university. Up to a third of students may currently be in quarantine.
College officials, who have issued mild statements and declined to answer numerous questions from Inside Higher Ed reporters as the proportion of students with COVID-19 has hit 8 percent, have said any decisions about the campus’s status must be made in consultation with officials from the system and from the state health department. Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, has generally opposed aggressive efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Georgia College updated its COVID-19 webpage Friday morning to add another 40 student cases from Thursday, pushing its student total to 514 and its campus total to 535. The college has about 7,000 students total, but its on-campus population is lower.
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 28, 11:05 a.m. The University of Notre Dame is moving to hold in-person undergraduate classes again in stages starting Wednesday, it announced this morning.
Notre Dame will resume in-person classes after two weeks of remote undergraduate instruction and physical lockdown prompted by spiking COVID-19 infections. The university announced Aug. 18 that it was closing public spaces on campus, restricting access to residence halls and asking students not to come to campus while its leaders reassessed plans amid a rising coronavirus infection rate.
At the time, Notre Dame counted 147 confirmed cases since Aug. 3 out of a total of 927 tests performed. The university only began classes Aug. 10.
When announcing that it plans to resume in-person classes for undergraduates, Notre Dame said that the number of new cases has decreased “substantially.” It cited a positivity rate of 6.3 percent from Aug. 20 through Aug. 25, as well as a positivity rate of less than 1 percent among over 1,200 surveillance tests on “members of the campus community.”
The university’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 12 new positive cases out of 409 total tests on Wednesday, the last day for which data have been posted. In the first three days of this week, it shows 66 new positive cases out of a total of 1,504 tests.
“With these encouraging numbers, we believe we can plan to return to in-person classes and gradually open up the campus,” the university’s president, the Reverend John I. Jenkins, said in a news release.
Two security firms and state troopers have been monitoring off-campus quarantine sites at Notre Dame after students were said to be leaving them in violation of rules, The South Bend Tribune reported yesterday. A Notre Dame spokesman has declined to provide additional information, citing student privacy concerns.
Father Jenkins said he was proud of staff members who have gone “above and beyond their ordinary responsibilities to keep the campus open and safe.” He also stressed those on campus should wear masks, maintain physical distance, wash their hands, complete a daily health check, report for surveillance testing as requested and limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
“The virus dealt us a blow and we stumbled, but we steadied ourselves and now we move on,” Father Jenkins said. “Let us redouble our diligence in observing health protocols and recommit to a semester of learning and growth. Together, we are writing one of the great comebacks in Notre Dame history.”
Colleges across the country have been grappling with the question of how they will decide whether to continue holding in-person classes amid COVID-19 spikes. Relatively few have posted firm guidelines.
The World Health Organization has recommended that governments should not begin reopening until positivity testing rates remain at or below 5 percent for at least 14 days.
— Rick Seltzer
Aug. 28, 6:23 a.m. University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel apologized this week for comparing the COVID-19 pandemic to the HIV epidemic of the 1980s, MLive reported.
Schlissel said during a town hall that testing can give a false sense of security, and “that happened in the HIV epidemic when people got a negative test, and they presented it to their sex partners and spread the disease nonetheless.”
UM’s Queer Advocacy Coalition criticized the statement for reinforcing stereotypes about gay people.
“The analogy I used is not a good or fair one. In using this analogy to make my point, I unintentionally reinforced stereotypes that have been historically and unjustly assigned to the LGBTQIA+ community as well as other communities and persons affected by HIV and AIDS,” Schlissel wrote to the Queer Advocacy Coalition. “Again, for this I apologize, especially as it relates to groups that have been historically maligned and stereotyped. It was not my intention to disparage any community or person affected by HIV and AIDS.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 28, 5:30 a.m. Bob Caslen, president of the University of South Carolina, has ordered the development of a plan to shut down the campus after the number of cases of COVID-19 doubled in a day, to 380, The Post and Courier reported.
“We cannot sustain  new cases a day,” Caslen told faculty and staff. “And I certainly will pull the plug if I have to.”
Many of the cases are from the Greek system. Five houses are under quarantine.
“Was it predictable? Yes. Is it acceptable? Absolutely not,” Caslen said. “We had appealed to students to do the right thing, although we knew realistically what we could expect.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 27, 2:52 p.m. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and Kalamazoo College have both announced that all classes will be online for the fall semester.
Bashar W. Hanna, Bloomsburg’s president, said that he wanted to offer courses in person. “Unfortunately, the circumstances have changed, and we have seen a concerning trend in positive COVID-19 cases within the BU community. After consultation with my leadership team, the members of our Council of Trustees, and the Office of the Chancellor, I have decided that, effective Monday, August 31, BU will transition to remote learning for all courses in progress,” he said.
Jorge G. Gonzalez, president of Kalamazoo, said, “I know that this is a deeply disappointing decision for everyone, especially for those of you looking forward to your first on-campus experience. While faculty and staff across the college are prepared for a return to campus next month, external factors have led us to this difficult decision.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 27, 2:45 p.m. New York governor Andrew Cuomo took to Twitter this morning to outline metrics that would trigger remote learning at colleges with coronavirus outbreaks.
“As college students return to campus, schools must be prepared for all possibilities,” he wrote. “If a college experiences 100 COVID cases or an outbreak equal to 5 percent of its population (whichever is less) — that college MUST go to remote learning for 2 weeks while the situation is evaluated.”
Many of the colleges that have already seen outbreaks this fall have reported case counts much higher than those thresholds.
— Lilah Burke
Aug. 26, 3:00 p.m. A total of 447 people — and roughly 440 students — at Georgia College have contracted COVID-19, according to the public liberal arts institution’s public dashboard. That is more than 6 percent of its nearly 7,000 students.
Inside Higher Ed‘s reporting has not revealed any other campus with anywhere near that proportion of COVID-19 positivity among the student body to date.
Officials at the college did not respond to several inquiries from Inside Higher Ed about how many students are in isolation or quarantining, or about the college’s plans to restrict in-person events or learning.
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 26, 1:50 p.m. Arizona State University has come under criticism in recent weeks for declining to publish data about the spread of COVID-19 among its 100,000-plus students and employees, citing privacy concerns. On Wednesday, the university responded — partially.
In a message to the campus, President Michael Crow said that the university had test results from 32,729 students and employees and has “161 known positive cases within our community,” including students and staff members on and off the campus.
Crow said he knew that there “has been and will continue to be interest in this number,” and he committed to “regular updates about our COVID management strategy.”
But in response to an inquiry from Inside Higher Ed, an Arizona State spokesman acknowledged via email that the university did not plan to “have a dashboard/website, etc. with a running total. But we will have regular updates on trends — and we will be disclosing case counts in the future updates.”
University officials have cited privacy concerns as a reason not to publish COVID-19 case data regularly, but experts have dismissed that as a valid reason not to publish information that is not personally identifiable.
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 25, 8:58 a.m. The University of Southern California resumed classes one week ago, with most of its courses offered online. Residence halls have remained largely closed and the university told students they should not return to Los Angeles for the fall term. Despite these efforts, the university has reported 43 COVID-19 cases among students living in off-campus housing. Over 100 students are now in quarantine due to exposure, according to a memo from Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health.
“This increase comes despite the continued State and County health guidance that significantly restricts in-person instruction and on-campus activities for universities located in counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list, including Los Angeles County,” Van Orman wrote. “For students who remain on or near campus in shared living arrangements, we strongly advise you to act with caution and strictly follow all guidelines for physical distancing (6 ft.), avoiding gatherings with other outside your home, wearing face coverings around others to protect against respiratory droplets and proceed with high adherence to hand hygiene and frequent surface contact cleaning.”
— Lilah Burke
Aug. 25, 7:45 a.m. The University of Alabama on Monday had 531 positive cases of COVID-19 among its students, faculty and staff members, the University of Alabama system reported.
The university’s classes began less than a week earlier, on Aug. 19. It reported 310 positive cases among nearly 30,000 students who were tested when they arrived on campus. Those cases were not included in the 531 new ones. The university’s isolation space for students with the virus currently is 20 percent occupied, the system said.
In an attempt to tamp down the outbreak, the city of Tuscaloosa, where the university is located, on Monday shut down its bars and bar service at restaurants for two weeks, AL.com reported.
The University of Missouri at Columbia reported 159 active cases of the virus among its students on Monday, the first day of classes at the university.
The University of Iowa also began its in-person classes on Monday. It had 107 self-reported cases among students during the previous week, and four among employees.
Alabama’s president, Stuart Bell, did not blame students when addressing the spike in cases.
“Our challenge is not the students,” Bell said, according to AL.com. “Our challenge is the virus and there’s a difference, folks. What we have to do is identify where does the virus thrive and where does the virus spread and how can we work together with our students, with our faculty and with our staff to make sure that we minimize those places, those incidents. It’s not student behavior, OK. It’s how do we have protocols so that we make it to where our students can be successful, and we can minimize the impact of the virus.”
— Paul Fain
Aug. 24, 4:03 p.m. Ohio State University has issued 228 interim suspensions to students for violating new coronavirus-related safety guidelines, WSYX/WTTE ABC 6 has reported. The university has threatened consequences for students who host gatherings of more than 10 people, where people are not wearing masks or social distancing.
— Lilah Burke
Aug. 24, 3:45 p.m. Auburn University reported 207 new positive cases of COVID-19 from last week, including 202 students and five employees. Those numbers are a fivefold increase from the 41 positives cases reported during the previous week. The university has had 545 total positive cases since March.
Students packed bars in downtown Auburn over the weekend, AL.com reported. And officials now are investigating reports of students not wearing masks or practicing social distancing in the bars. The state of Alabama has a mask mandate in place until the end of the month.
The University of Alabama today declined to release specific numbers of positive cases on campus, according to AL.com. But the University of Alabama system plans to announce those numbers later today.
Cases appear to be spreading in Tuscaloosa, however, where the university is located. And the city today closed bars and suspended bar service at restaurants for two weeks, the site reported, to try to slow the spread of the virus.
“They have made tough decisions, and I appreciate Mayor Walt Maddox and the University of Alabama leadership for tackling a serious problem as quickly as possible,” Kay Ivey, the state’s Republican governor, said in a statement.
— Paul Fain
Aug. 24, 10:00 a.m. The academic year is off to a rough start at several institutions.
Zoom, the videoconferencing platform now used by nearly everyone during the age of social distancing, is facing technical difficulties. The company’s meetings and video webinar services were partially down since at least 8:51 a.m. Eastern time, according to its status updates site.
The outages are concentrated on the East Coast, according to website that tracks outages of online platforms. By about 11 a.m., service was restored for some users.
Students and faculty members at several universities posted about the disruption on social media, including those at Temple and Widener Universities, Florida State University, and Pennsylvania State University.
A company spokesperson provided the following statement: “We have resolved an issue that caused some users to be unable to start and join Zoom Meetings and Webinars or manage aspects of their account on the Zoom website. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”
— Madeline St. Amour
Aug. 21, 4:35 p.m. The University of Iowa announced Friday that it would discontinue four sports teams, citing a nearly $100 million decline in athletics revenue due to the Big Ten Conference’s decision to forgo fall competition. As part of a plan to close a deficit of up to $75 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year, Iowa said it would end its varsity programs in men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis after the current academic year.
President Bruce Harreld said the university considered several factors in addition to cost-cutting in its decision, including Iowa’s compliance with federal gender equity requirements and the state of the sports within the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“We are heartbroken for our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Harreld said. “We also understand how disappointing this is for our letterwinners, alumni, donors and community members who have helped build these programs.”
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 20, 2:41 p.m. North Carolina State University announced Thursday that all undergraduate courses this semester will be online.
Randy Woodson, the chancellor, wrote that “battling the spread of COVID-19 is a challenging endeavor even when everyone is practicing safety measures. Unfortunately, the actions of a few are jeopardizing the health and safety of the larger community. This week we’ve seen a rapidly increasing trend in COVID-19 infections in the NC State community, including the clusters mentioned above. As of today, through our aggressive contact tracing program we have more than 500 students in quarantine and isolation, mostly off campus, who have either tested positive or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. We are also investigating other potential off-campus clusters. To best protect the health and safety of the entire campus community, we are making difficult decisions and implementing the following changes to campus operations.”
He said that all undergraduate classes would be online, effective Monday. Currently, a majority of classes are online.
Woodson added that students will be able to stay in residence halls. “We understand how important it is for many of our students, and their families, to have the benefits of an on-campus experience, even at this time of reduced operations. For our residential students who want to continue living on campus and receiving the support it provides, you are welcome to stay — we are not closing on-campus housing,” he wrote. “With oversight from dedicated staff and resident advisors, and the continued outstanding cooperation from student residents, we are confident that the spread of the virus can be limited. We’ll continue proactively monitoring the virus with the hope of keeping on-campus housing open throughout the semester. Of course, we’ll change direction if needed in order to protect our students and staff.”
La Salle University, in Philadelphia, announced a similar move. However, the university will also close residence halls to most students.
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 20, 6:30 a.m. The University of Connecticut has evicted students who held a packed party in a residence hall without social distancing or face masks, The Hartford Courant reported. The students became known because video of the party was widely circulated.
The university said the students were “endangering not only their own health and well-being, but that of others.”
UConn dean of students Eleanor Daugherty and residential life director Pamela Schipani said in letter to all students that those who were evicted did not represent the entire student body. “Our residential community has demonstrated an admirable commitment to follow universal precautions and keep our community safe. In doing so, they have made considerable sacrifice. We cannot afford the cost to the public health that is associated with inviting students into a room for a late night party,” they wrote. “The vast majority of our students are doing the right thing — but every student needs to do the same.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 19, 3:35 p.m. The University of Pittsburgh will extend its period of remote instruction until Sept. 14, Ann E. Cudd, the university’s provost and senior vice chancellor, said in a written statement. Pitt began its fall term this week with remote classes and had planned to move to mostly in-person next week. But Cudd said the university made the adjustment today to “allow for completion of staged arrival and shelter-in-place procedures so that all students can start in-person classes at the same time.”
Drexel University, located in Philadelphia, will remain closed to undergraduates with its courses remaining remote throughout the fall term.
“We had all hoped to stage our gradual return to campus,” John Fry, Drexel’s president, said in a statement, “but the shifting nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on other colleges and universities has necessitated a change of course for Drexel.”
The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday announced it was suspending in-person classes for two weeks after a spike of COVID-19 cases among students. And Michigan State University told students who had planned to live in residence halls to stay home as the university moved courses that were scheduled for in-person formats to remote ones. Those moves followed the Monday decision by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to go remote and to send undergraduates home after several COVID-19 clusters emerged among students.
— Paul Fain
Aug. 19, 10 a.m. Two progressive members of Congress are probing a student housing developer for pressing universities this spring on the financial ramifications of their fall reopening plans and the possibility they would cut housing occupancy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Rashida Tlaib, both Democrats, yesterday sent a letter to John G. Picerne, the founder and CEO of housing developer and operator Corvias. They requested information about the Rhode Island-based company allegedly “putting profits above public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As first reported in Inside Higher Ed earlier this month, Corvias wrote to public university officials in at least two states in May, telling university leaders the company had not accepted the risk of universities taking “unilateral actions” that would hurt student housing revenue. The company sent nearly identical letters to leaders at the University System of Georgia and Wayne State University in Detroit. Leaders at the Georgia system and many of its campuses where Corvias operates housing have denied any outside influence over their reopening decisions, as have Wayne State leaders.
Warren and Tlaib are asking Corvias to provide several pieces of information by Sept. 1. They include a list of all higher education partners for which the company manages, operates or builds student housing; copies of all written communications between the company and university partners regarding the status of student housing for the upcoming academic year; and information about whether the company has engaged in any legal action or communications telling colleges and universities they cannot reduce student housing occupancy.
Further, the Democrats’ letter asks if Corvias agrees with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s risk assessments for student housing occupancy, what steps it is taking to reduce risks of student housing residences it manages and if the company consulted public health experts or state officials before making arguments about the number of students housed in buildings. They also seek copies of the agreements between the company and universities and details about how those agreements allow for company profits.
“Reports that Corvias has been pushing for a less restricted reopening of on-campus housing that would be inconsistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines raise serious questions about the nature of these partnerships and the private sector influences affecting campuses as they make important public health decisions for the Fall,” Warren and Tlaib wrote.
Their letter also noted that an investigation of privatized housing in the military raised concerns about Corvias.
“It would be troubling if Corvias was once again prioritizing its profits over the health and safety of its residents,” they wrote.
Corvias has not responded to multiple requests for comment since its May letters were first uncovered.
— Rick Seltzer
Aug. 18, 2:33 p.m. The University of Notre Dame reported 80 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on its campus today. The university’s daily report included 418 new tests, for a positivity rate of roughly 19 percent.
Notre Dame welcomed students back to campus on Aug. 3 for its fall term, which it plans to conclude in late November. The university conducted pre-matriculation virus tests of all undergraduate and graduate students. It found 33 positive cases among those 11,836 tests, for a positivity rate of just 0.28 percent. Since Aug. 3, the university has reported a total of 147 confirmed cases from 927 tests.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, is scheduled to “discuss with students the current state of COVID-19 cases at the university” later today.
— Paul Fain
Aug. 17, 4:25 p.m. Nearly 10 percent of the first roughly 500 students and employees tested for COVID-19 at Bethel College, in Kansas, have the virus, the local health agency and Bethel’s president announced Monday.
In a videotaped statement, Jonathan Gering, Bethel’s president, said that “approximately 50” of those tested as they came to campus this week had the virus, including 43 students and seven employees. Those who tested positive were in isolation on the campus, and contact tracing had begun to identify others who had contact with those infected. Some of those identified are already in quarantine, Gering said.
The 43 infected students came from “faraway states and nearby locations as well,” Gering said. They represented a sizable fraction of Bethel’s roughly 500-student enrollment, since only about two-thirds of students had arrived on campus already for Wednesday’s planned first day of classes.
Gering said Bethel would delay the arrival of those students who had not yet come to the campus. “We’ll get you here when it’s safe to do so,” he said. Courses will begin online.
He also said that the college had moved to “orange” in its color-coded virus response system, and that students would be discouraged from leaving campus and visitors barred from coming onto campus.
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 17, 4:05 p.m. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has announced that all of its undergraduate instruction will be remote, effective Aug. 19 — nine days after the university held its first in-person classes for the fall term.
The university cited a “spate of COVID-19 infection clusters” in making the decision. Three announced clusters last week were in student housing, with a fourth linked to a fraternity. UNC on its COVID-19 dashboard reported 130 new positive student cases in the last week, and five positive cases among employees.
Chapel Hill reported a high and rapidly increasing positivity rate among the nearly 1,000 students it had tested as of this morning.
“In just the past week (Aug. 10-16), we have seen the COVID-19 positivity rate rise from 2.8 percent to 13.6 percent at Campus Health,” said Kevin M. Guskiewicz, Chapel Hill’s chancellor, and Robert A. Blouin, its executive vice chancellor and provost, wrote to employees.
In addition to shifting its instruction to remote learning, the university said it would continue to “greatly reduce residence hall occupancy,” which it said were at 60 percent capacity.
Barbara K. Rimer, dean of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, on Monday wrote on her blog that the university should “take an off-ramp and return to remote operations for teaching and learning.”
She cited reports of noncompliance with social distancing by students off campus, saying the reopening was not working. “The rationale for taking an off-ramp now is that the number of clusters is growing and soon could become out of control, threatening the health of others on campus and in the community and putting scarce resources at risk,” wrote Rimer.
UNC’s campus health services reported that 177 students were in isolation Monday, with 349 in quarantine.
“There are no easy answers as the nation navigates through the pandemic. At this point we haven’t received any information that would lead to similar modifications at any of our other universities,” Peter Hans, the UNC system’s president, said in a written statement. “Whether at Chapel Hill or another institution, students must continue to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing, as their personal responsibility, particularly in off-campus settings, is critical to the success of this semester and to protect public health.”
— Paul Fain
Aug. 16, 4:41 p.m. The Faculty Executive Committee at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will hold a meeting Monday to discuss the growing number of coronavirus cases after the university reported a fourth cluster of cases on Sunday, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. A cluster is defined as five or more cases in close proximity.
Three of the announced clusters were in student housing complexes, and the fourth was linked to a fraternity.
The chair of the faculty, Mimi Chapman, wrote to the UNC System Board of Governors over the weekend urging it to give UNC Chapel Hill’s chancellor authority to make decisions in response to the pandemic.
“We knew there would be positive cases on our campus. But clusters, five or more people that are connected in one place, are a different story,” Chapman wrote. “The presence of clusters should be triggering reconsideration of residential, in-person learning. However, moving to remote instruction cannot be done without your approval.”
Classes began at the Chapel Hill campus last week. The university opened for in-person classes over the objections of the local county health director.
— Elizabeth Redden
Aug. 14, 4:32 p.m. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill informed students, faculty and staff members this afternoon that it has identified two clusters of COVID-19 cases at student housing complexes.
A cluster is five or more cases in close proximity within a single residential hall or dwelling. Those in the clusters “are isolating and receiving medical monitoring,” according to an alert issued this afternoon. Local health officials have been notified, and efforts are under way to identify others who could have been exposed.
“All residents in these living spaces have been provided additional information about these clusters and next steps,” the alert said. “Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone determined to have been a close contact with a positive individual. A close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes when either person has not been wearing a face covering. Those identified as a close contact will be notified directly and provided with further guidance.”
The clusters are at the Ehringhaus Community and Granville Towers. Ehringhaus has four-bedroom suites and is heavily skewed toward first-year student residents. Granville Towers are privately managed.
Chapel Hill’s COVID-19 dashboard shows main campus housing occupancy at 60.7 percent as of Monday and Granville Towers occupancy at 76.6 percent.
The university cited the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act when issuing the alert. That act set requirements for disseminating health and safety information on campus. But Chapel Hill does not plan to provide details about individual positive cases, citing privacy considerations and laws.
Chapel Hill held its first day of classes Monday.
— Rick Seltzer
Aug. 13, 5:30 p.m. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville reported that 20 students and 8 staff members have COVID-19, WATE News reported today. Due to potential exposure, 155 people are self-isolating, officials said. Students started moving into residence halls at the university on Aug. 9.
— Lilah Burke
Aug. 13, 1:30 p.m. Several medical experts with key roles in advising the National Collegiate Athletic Association offered discouraging words about fall sports competition in a conference call with reporters Thursday, according to news reports.
“I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play,” ESPN quoted Dr. Carlos Del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University and a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel, as saying. “We need to focus on what’s important. What’s important right now is we need to control this virus. Not having fall sports this year, in controlling this virus, would be to me the No. 1 priority.”
Most college sports conferences have opted not to hold intercollegiate competition this fall, but several leagues that play high-profile (and high-dollar) football are planning to play on.
Dr. Colleen Kraft, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory and a member of the NCAA panel, said of the leagues planning to compete: “There will be transmissions [of COVID-19], and they will have to stop their games,” according to ESPN.
Officials at the Big Ten and the Pac-12, the two leagues in the Power Five football series that have opted not to play this fall, have especially cited concerns about apparently increased incidence of myocarditis, a potentially deadly heart condition, related to COVID-19. The NCAA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, said on the conference call that between 1 and 2 percent of all athletes who’ve been tested by NCAA members have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that at least a dozen have myocarditis, ESPN reported.
Dr. Kraft said colleges were “playing with fire” regarding myocarditis.
— Doug Lederman
Aug. 13, 12:23 p.m. The recent spate of athletic conference decisions to postpone fall sports means substantial revenue shocks for college athletic departments, and cutting expenses will not always be enough to absorb the blow, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service.
Because sports are strategically important for universities, Moody’s expects universities to provide “extraordinary support” like internal loans in order to stay current on debt payments for athletic facilities. Colleges and universities may tap their financial reserves to close budget gaps tied to the pandemic, the ratings agency said in a report released Thursday morning.
“Athletic expenses have grown significantly in recent years, including certain fixed costs such as debt service, which will impact universities’ ability to adjust to the disruption,” said Dennis Gephardt, vice president at Moody’s, in a statement.
Fall sports cancellations reached a crescendo this week when two of the most important conferences for college football, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, joined many non-Power Five conferences and programs in pulling the plug on fall sports amid COVID-19 concerns. Although the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 were still hoping to play football, the ramifications of existing cancellations will be felt across higher education.
Football has been the biggest driver of athletic revenue in the sector. Football contributed $5.8 billion in 2018, a whopping 40 percent of the $14.6 billion in total athletic revenue counted by Moody’s. Growth in revenue has been driven by media rights like the payments television networks make for the right to broadcast games.
Disappearing ticket sales will also hit revenue. Although some donor support might be expected to offset losses, a significant portion of donor support comes from seating priority programs — donors buying the right to pick seats under certain conditions.
This situation is particularly important because the median athletic department broke even in 2018, meaning a significant number of departments lost money.
Moody’s called that year a relatively strong revenue year. Still, more than a third of Division I public universities, 37 percent, reported expenses exceeded revenue that year. The median operating deficit among that group was 3 percent.
Conferences that generate more athletic revenue generally reported better operating performance than others. The financial health of operations varies greatly across athletic conferences.
“Compensation for coaches as well as other athletic support and administrative expenses among NCAA Division I members make up the largest portion of the expense base for a combined 35 percent and will be a focus for expense management efforts in fiscal 2021,” Moody’s said in its note. “With games canceled, universities will save some money on game day operations and travel expenses.”
Athletics requires more capital than other arms of higher education. Median debt-to-operating-revenue was 58 percent for public higher education overall, compared to 66 percent for institutions competing in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. Facility expenses and debt service at Division I public universities drove increases in debt between 2013 and 2018, with debt growing 54 percent in that period to a total of $2.3 billion.
“Given the revenue shocks, many athletic departments will not be able to cover debt service with net revenue from recurring operations, prompting the need to fill the gap from appropriate auxiliary and/or other reserves. In many cases, this is likely to take the form of internal loans that the athletic departments will need to repay the university over time,” the Moody’s report said.
All of this follows the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments in the spring. Men’s basketball accounted for about 15 percent of 2018 athletic revenue across higher education. Women’s basketball was 7 percent.
Still to be determined is how the spread of COVID-19 affects sports scheduled for later in the year and how universities balance pressures on athletics against pressures to other parts of their operations.
“Budget difficulties at athletic departments will add to the financial strains facing universities, including a tuition revenue pinch, reduced state funding and incremental expenses to combat the coronavirus,” the Moody’s report said.
— Rick Seltzer
A survey by Pearson finds that 77 percent of Americans think that reopening colleges and universities is vital to a healthy economy. But 62 percent say colleges and universities are risking the lives of students by reopening in the fall.
Aug. 11, 4:40 p.m. The Pac-12, another “Power Five” conference, quickly followed the Big Ten Conference with a decision to postpone fall sports for the remainder of 2020 at its institutions on the West Coast. The postponement also includes winter sports, which are on hold for the remainder of the year, and the conference will consider playing all sports impacted by the decision in 2021, the Pac-12 said in a release about the decision.
Three Power Five conferences, the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, which include the nation’s top football programs and gain most from the sport’s financial benefits, have not yet announced postponement of the fall sports season and are moving forward with modified schedules as of Aug. 11.
Aug. 11, 3:32 p.m. The Big Ten Conference officially postponed its 2020-21 fall sports season, including football. The decision affects some of the top college football teams in the country and was discouraged by several federal lawmakers on Monday.
Kevin Warren, commissioner of the Big Ten, said in a news release that athletes’ mental and physical health was “at the center” of the decision and that the coronavirus posed too many potential medical risks for the season to proceed this fall. Spring competition for football and other fall sports, including cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball, will be considered, the Big Ten said in the statement.
— Greta Anderson
Aug. 11, 7:20 a.m. Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, has apologized for letting several students take photographs of him that were not safe.
“In a few instances, over recent days, I stopped for photos with some of you on the quad,” Father Jenkins wrote to students. “While all of the scientific evidence indicates that the risk of transmission is far lower outdoors than indoors, I want to remind you (and myself!) that we should stay at least six feet apart. I recognize that it’s not easy, particularly when we are reuniting with such great friends. I am sorry for my poor example, and I am recommitting to do my best. I am confident you will too.”
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 10, 12:45 p.m. Applications for federal and state financial aid for college are a leading indicator of how many students will enroll in and complete a college degree. A University of Michigan study shows that those applications have not increased with the additional need created by the coronavirus pandemic
The study found no increases in Michigan in students filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the Tuition Incentive Program, Michigan’s largest state scholarship program for low-income students.
“It is worrying that we haven’t seen any aid application expansion, and particularly that the gaps based on race or school income level have widened. FAFSA and TIP completion rates would need to be even higher than normal to keep up with the challenges created by the pandemic,” said Kevin Stange, associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy.
— Scott Jaschik
Aug. 10, 12:06 p.m. University presidents in the Big Ten Conference, one of the NCAA Division I “Power Five” conferences, voted to cancel the 2020 football season, The Detroit Free Press reported. The conference had originally planned for conference-only competition, but has faced increased pressure over the last week from athletes organizing to improve health and safety measures for play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Power Five conferences, which include the country’s top college athletics programs, are expected to make announcements about the fall season early this week, ESPN reported. Division II and III leaders decided last week that they would cancel fall athletic championships, and the first conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Mid-American Conference, postponed fall sports on Aug. 8.
— Greta Anderson