The University of Notre Dame has halted in-person classes for two weeks, after the private institution recorded a swarm of coronavirus infections barely a week after starting the semester.
University President and Rev. John I. Jenkins' address on Tuesday was broadcast hours after the school disclosed it had confirmed 147 cases of infection on its northern Indiana campus of about 12,000 students.
“The virus is a formidable foe," Jenkins said. "For the past week, it has been winning.”
All of the cases, except for one, are students infected with the coronavirus. Most of those students resided off campus, the university said, adding that the infections were linked to "off-campus gatherings where neither masks were worn nor physical distancing observed."
“The objective of these temporary restrictions is to contain the spread of the virus so that we can get back to in-person instruction,” Jenkins said. “If these steps are not successful, we will have to send students home as we did last spring.”
The midweek increase to more than 140 infected students comes after the school recorded 67 confirmed cases at the beginning of the week. Notre Dame administered 418 coronavirus tests on Monday, according to school-provided statistics. Of those, 80 were positive, a rate of 19 percent.
The university had welcomed students back to campus for the fall semester on Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than originally scheduled and had planned to end the semester before Thanksgiving.
Notre Dame's decision to switch to online learning is the second shutdown of a major university because of the virus in as many days. On Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced a sharp pivot to online-only instruction for undergraduates after dozens of students living in dorms and a fraternity house tested positive for coronavirus.
Other colleges across the country have also experienced an uptick in infections within days of students returning to campus. While students may be abiding social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing mandates on campus, getting them to behave elsewhere has proven challenging.
Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., reported a cluster of 46 confirmed cases of coronavirus through mandatory entry testing, though many students are still awaiting results. An Oklahoma State University sorority house is also under quarantine after reporting 23 cases.
Michigan State University also announced Tuesday that it is rolling back its plan to bring students back to campus ahead of its Sept. 2 start.
"Given the current status of the virus in our country," wrote Michigan State President Samuel Stanley, "particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities — it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus."
Stanley has asked undergraduate students who planned to live in dorms to stay home. Refunds and credits will be issued, he said, and a small number of students will be allowed to stay in dorms. He also encouraged students living off campus to stay in their "home communities."
Not all colleges have started their fall semesters. Those aiming to begin in late August and September could rethink their on-campus plans to avoid a wave of similar outbreaks if students don't adhere to rules and guidelines mandating masks and social distancing.
In May, Notre Dame's president instructed faculty to prepare to offer courses both in person and through remote instruction, in case students need to isolate or quarantine, or in the case of an outbreak.
"Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed," Jenkins said in May when he announced the university's fall plans. "We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet."