College towns across the United States have reimposed shutdowns after a spike in campus cases of coronavirus caused by students partying in large numbers on their return for the new academic year.
Despite waves of schools and businesses around the country being cleared to reopen, Columbia, Missouri joined cities in Alabama, Utah and Iowa in reimposing restrictions to deal with a surge of infections.
The health director in Columbia ordered on Friday that bars stop serving alcohol at 9pm and close by 10pm after more than 300 students at the University of Missouri tested positive for the coronavirus amid an alarming 44% positivity rate for the surrounding county.
“What we’re seeing in our violations is they’re coming late at night,” said Stephanie Browning, head of the health department for Columbia, Missouri. “Big groups gathering. They’re not wearing their masks, they’re not social distancing.”
The University of Alabama reported on Friday that an additional 481 students have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to more than 1,000 infections since students returned to campus in Tuscaloosa for the fall.
The town’s mayor closed its bars on Monday for two weeks.
“We are closely monitoring our data daily, and we will continue to adjust operations as the situation warrants,” said University of Alabama System chancellor Finis St John in a statement. He said testing for the virus was a key pillar of the university’s health and safety plan.
St John said every student on the three campuses has the option of moving to fully online instruction at any time, remaining either on campus or returning home to continue their course work.
In Utah, the city council in Provo overrode a mayoral veto to pass a mask mandate, which includes a $500 fine for organizing large mask-less gatherings, days before students return to Brigham Young University from around the country.
But the council was nevertheless worried that college students sharing dorms, bathrooms and showers could become super-spreaders and bring the virus off campus, council chair George Handley said.
“We’re already seeing what’s happened across the country at other universities, he said. “
A recent warehouse party organized by a BYU student’s promotional company called Young/Dumb also raised concern when pictures of hundreds of revelers without masks surfaced online.
BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has its own rules requiring masks on campus. Requirements for indoor public spaces in town will help people stay healthy and businesses stay open, Handley said.
“This is actually about preserving our way of life, it’s not about destroying it contrary to what some people say,” Handley said.
Fueled in part by clusters where college students are returning to classes, Kansas has had its highest seven-day increase in coronavirus cases.
The state’s governor, Laura Kelly, said outbreaks on college campuses and fraternities and sororities are at least a factor in the surge. “We cannot continue to go down this path,” she told reporters Friday.
Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, has ordered all bars shut down around the University of Iowa and Iowa State. In Story county, home to Iowa State, 74% of new cases over the past seven days were among people ages 19 to 24, Reynolds said on Thursday. In the same time period, 69% of new cases in Johnson county, the home of the University of Iowa, were in that age group.
“It is increasing the virus activity in the community, and its spilling over to other segments of the population,” Reynolds said.
Three of North Carolina’s largest public universities have halted in-person undergraduate instruction and directed students to move out of the dorms after hundreds tested positive following their return to campus. More than 800 have been infected at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and over 670 at North Carolina State.
Leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill, which has shifted to online classes, wrote an open letter Thursday to the mayor outlining steps the university is taking to curb off-campus parties.
“We recognise the very real problems with the behaviours of some of our fraternities and sororities,” the letter said.
The US has recorded over 180,000 deaths from the coronavirus and 5.9 million confirmed infections. Worldwide, the death toll is put at more than 830,000, with at least 24.5 million cases.
Source: The Guardian