Archive of Live Coronavirus Updates (December)

(The latest developments on the impact of the coronavirus in higher ed can be found here.)

11:40 a.m. Eastern, 12/18/2020

U. of Houston Basketball Coach: Entire Team Has Had Covid-19

The University of Houston men’s basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson, said on Thursday that all 15 players on the team’s roster had tested positive for Covid-19 since the summer, the Houston Chronicle reports. The newspaper quoted Sampson as describing the situation as “unprecedented.” He added: “I don’t even know how to describe it. I’ve never seen [anything like] it. I’ve never experienced it.” —Andy Thomason

3:45 p.m. Eastern, 12/17/2020

Alabama State U. to Disinfect Stadium With Drones

Alabama State University on Wednesday demonstrated drone technology it will use to disinfect surfaces in its stadium as a way to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The small, unmanned aircraft will fly above the university’s 26,500-seat football stadium to spray sanitizer that can “sequester and kill” viruses, including the coronavirus, according to a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way for Covid-19 to spread, though it is possible.

Alabama State’s football team, the Hornets, is scheduled to play its first home game of the season on February 26. The team is part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which postponed the fall football season to the spring of 2021.

The Atlanta Falcons, a professional football team, have used similar drone technology to sanitize its stadium. —Rachel Cieri Mull

11:30 a.m. Eastern, 12/17/2020

Could College Students’ Quarantine Times Be Shorter? New Research Says Yes

It’s possible to safely cut several days from quarantine times for asymptomatic college students who were exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19, new research from the University of Kentucky suggests.

The research, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that students who do not test positive by their seventh day of quarantine may be able to safely return to campus.

Researchers tested 90 students, placed in quarantine because of their contact with someone who had tested positive, on their third or fourth, fifth, seventh, 10th, and 14th days of quarantine. Most of these students did not test positive for the virus; of the 14 who did, each had tested positive by the seventh day after exposure.

Requiring fewer quarantine days for the students who do not test positive by the seventh day could improve their mental health, said Jill Kolesar, the study’s principal investigator and a professor in the university’s College of Pharmacy, in a news release. —Lindsay Ellis

8:48 p.m. Eastern, 12/16/2020

Pennsylvania Urges Colleges to Consider Delaying Students’ Return

Two state agencies in Pennsylvania on Wednesday urged colleges to think about delaying students’ return to campuses for the spring semester, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The state’s education and health departments released a joint statement warning that Covid-19 hospitalizations could peak in January or February, and that colleges could act to help decrease transmission of the virus. “Colleges and universities play a critical role in mitigating the spread of Covid-19 and creating safe learning environments for students,” said Noe Ortega, Pennsylvania’s acting education secretary. “By delaying students’ return to campus, our institutions of higher learning can help slow the spread of the virus, help businesses to remain open, and protect regional health-care systems.” —Andy Thomason

1:56 p.m. Eastern, 12/16/2020

Students Who Left Campus Due to Covid-19 Drank Less Alcohol, Study Finds

Many students who returned home from college when the pandemic hit last spring drank far less alcohol than usual. According to a new study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, alcohol consumption decreased substantially for students who had been living with their peers and then moved back in with their parents in the spring, when classes moved online. The average number of drinks those students consumed per week dropped from 13.9 to 8.5, and they drank 2.7 days each week, compared with 3.1 days before campuses shut down.

“Drinking is a social behavior for college students, and without social interaction students are less likely to drink heavily,” Helen R. White, a professor emerita at Rutgers University and the study’s lead researcher, said in a news release. “Living with parents may especially interfere with social interaction with peers and thereby be protective against heavy drinking.”

Students who decided to keep living with their peers after classes went online continued consuming about the same number of drinks each week — 11, on average — and actually drank on more days of the week than they had before. For students who lived at home both before and after the pandemic hit, the amount of drinking increased: They went from an average of 6.7 drinks weekly to 9.4 drinks, and from an average of two drinking days to 3.3 days each week. —Sarah Brown

12:02 p.m. Eastern, 12/15/2020

U. of Florida Professor Reportedly Died of Covid-19

This post has been updated (3:50 p.m.) with comments from a university spokesman.

An associate professor of architecture at the University of Florida has died of Covid-19, according to the faculty union.

The Gainesville Sun reported that Michael Kuenstle, who’d taught at the university since 1993, died of coronavirus complications on Saturday. Kuenstle had no in-person classes or on-campus duties this semester, according to a university spokesman.

“It’s a terrible tragedy and we’re very saddened by his loss,” Steve Orlando, assistant vice president for communications, wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The university’s Covid-19 dashboard reports that nearly 800 employees have tested positive for the virus since March. —Rachel Cieri Mull

10:04 p.m. Eastern, 12/14/2020

Covid-Relief Bill Falls $100 Billion Short of What Higher Ed Sought 2 Months Ago

A bipartisan group of senators on Monday released a Covid-19 economic-relief bill that would allocate $20 billion to higher education — well short of the $120 billion the sector sought in October “to stave off catastrophic consequences” — with at least $8.5 billion earmarked for student financial aid. The legislation would also extend the pause on monthly student-loan payments, first put into place by the Cares Act, until April 1.

Michael Stratford of Politico observed some noteworthy wrinkles within the legislation, including how it would affect wealthy institutions — except for Berea College, in Kentucky, the home state of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

—Don Troop

4:59 p.m. Eastern, 12/13/2020

Campus Cases Near 400,000 as College Towns Suffer Devastating Human Toll

American campuses have tallied nearly 400,000 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to new data collected by The New York Times. More than 85 colleges have reported at least 1,000 cases each, the Times reported, with some logging well over 5,000. More than 75,000 of the cases have cropped up since early November.

Perhaps more concerning than the sheer case volume, however, is the off-campus spread. The Times reported on Saturday that, according to an analysis of more than 200 counties with substantial college-student populations, their overall Covid-19 deaths have risen faster than elsewhere in the country. Deaths in those counties have doubled since the end of August, compared with a 58-percent increase elsewhere.

Public-health experts long warned that the mass migration of college students back to campuses in August could result in dangerous levels of transmission to vulnerable people who live in those communities. The Times analysis suggests that that scenario — what one university spokesman called “our biggest fear” — came to pass, at least in some areas. —Andy Thomason

4:59 p.m. Eastern, 12/13/2020

Monmouth College Swim Coach Dies of Covid-19 Complications

Monmouth College’s swim coach has died of complications from Covid-19, the Illinois institution announced on Sunday. “Everyone in the Monmouth College family is brokenhearted at the passing of our good friend and colleague Tom Burek,” the college’s president, Clarence R. Wyatt, said in a news release. “Tom’s work as a swim coach, both at the college and in the community, touched so many lives in such a positive way. Tom always sought to lift others up. A profoundly good person has left us far too soon.” Burek, who was 62, died on Saturday.

4:19 p.m. Eastern, 12/13/2020

Ball State U. President Tests ‘Presumptively Positive’

4:20 p.m. Eastern, 12/11/2020

Layoffs at George Washington U. Total 339, Saving $32 Million

George Washington University has laid off 339 employees in an effort to close a budget gap caused by the pandemic, The GW Hatchet reports. Officials said the layoffs, which spanned many campus units, saved the university $32 million, representing 18 percent of the deficit the institution is trying to close.

Two senior leaders wrote in an email that they didn’t expect there to be further layoffs. “Due to the financial challenges GW faced from the pandemic, as leaders we needed to make some very hard decisions that resulted in personnel actions that affected our friends and colleagues,” wrote Brian Blake and Mark Diaz, the provost and chief financial officer, respectively. “While we worked hard to take a strategic approach that would foster greater long-term financial stability for the university, we recognize that this was painful for our community and strove to act at all times with care and compassion.” —Andy Thomason

1:50 p.m. Eastern, 12/11/2020

Over 6,000 Cases in Big-Time College Sports, Analysis Finds

There have been at least 6,629 cases of Covid-19 in the programs that make up the top tier of college athletics, according to a new analysis by The New York Times. The newspaper sought data from every athletics department that competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football’s premier competitive level, but obtained data from only 78 of 130 colleges. The high caseload among players and staff members, the Times found, is indicative of “how the virus can intrude on programs even when they have stringent safety protocols, including widespread testing.” The Big Ten Conference, the newspaper pointed out, tested players and coaches daily (a policy decision that worried some on campuses) but still tallied nearly 2,000 cases this fall. —Andy Thomason

12:57 p.m. Eastern, 12/10/2020

Fauci Tells Colleges to Expect More-Centralized Covid-19 Policies Under Biden Administration

Anthony S. Fauci told college leaders this week to expect more-central coordination of Covid-19 policies under the Biden administration, according to the Boston Business Journal. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading infectious-disease expert, made the remarks on Wednesday during a virtual conference of the New England Commission of Higher Education. The Business Journal published an edited transcript of Fauci’s comments, which are scant on details. —Rachel Cieri Mull

12:24 p.m. Eastern, 12/10/2020

California State System Plans to Return to In-Person Instruction Next Fall

California State University announced on Wednesday that it “anticipates” returning to primarily in-person classes in the fall of 2021.

The announcement came just ahead of the December 15 deadline for admissions applications, and is an effort to “provide as much advance notice as possible to students and their families,” said Timothy P. White, California State’s chancellor, in a news release. “While we are currently going through a very difficult surge in the pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the promising progress on vaccines.”

The announcement deferred any decisions about the mode of instruction for the summer of 2021, saying “it is too soon to determine what the science will allow.” —Rachel Cieri Mull

12:08 p.m. Eastern, 12/10/2020

U. of Massachusetts Projects $335-Million Shortfall

The University of Massachusetts system on Wednesday projected a $335-million budget shortfall “caused primarily by the loss of housing and dining revenue” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With fewer students living on campus than initially predicted, the UMass system is now projecting $80 million less in revenue from housing and dining, along with $19 million in new expenses for public-health safety measures.

The system also will not raise in-state tuition, as previously planned, because of the economic hardships students are facing. A 2.5-percent tuition increase would have generated nearly $15 million, according to a news release.

But the news is not all bad for the five-campus system. Its new projections include $76 million more in state funding than anticipated, along with $21 million more from tuition and fees, thanks to better-than-expected enrollment. —Rachel Cieri Mull

3:19 p.m. Eastern, 12/9/2020

2 Men’s Basketball Coaches Say They’re Conflicted About Playing Season Amid Pandemic

Two men’s college basketball coaches recently acknowledged that it doesn’t feel right to be playing a season amid the rapidly worsening pandemic. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Jeff Capel, the University of Pittsburgh coach, said on Monday that “something just doesn’t feel right” about players’ “laying it on the line to entertain people” right now. He added that the NCAA’s amateur ideal now appears hollow: “One of the things that has come about with all of this since everything happened in March, when the season was canceled, I don’t think anyone can say anymore that these young men are amateurs. That’s out the window. They’re not. They absolutely aren’t.”

Mike Krzyzewski, the coach at Duke University, said that “everyone is concerned” about the effects of isolating players in order to keep games safe, The News & Observer reports. He added: “A lot of kids aren’t gonna be able to go home for Christmas, probably a time where they should for mental health. We’re just plowing through this.” —Andy Thomason

1:33 p.m. Eastern, 12/9/2020

More Frequent Testing Is Associated With Lower Student-Infection Rates, Analysis Finds

What makes the greatest difference in preventing coronavirus infections on campus? In one analysis, posted publicly today, researchers found that among reducing dorm occupancy (known as de-densifying), holding classes online, and testing students frequently, only more testing was associated with fewer student infections.

The analysis, which has not been peer-reviewed, examined publicly available numbers from 13 East Coast colleges, all of which tested undergraduates living on campus at least once a week. Colleges that tested their students two or three times a week tended to have a smaller proportion of their student bodies test positive over the fall term than did colleges that tested only once a week.

The results don’t prove that testing alone keeps student infections low, wrote the research team, composed of three scientists at Harvard University (which was included in the study). “Schools that did testing more often may also have implemented more restrictive social policies, and made e.g. ventilation upgrades that led to lower rates of infection,” they wrote. But the findings do support the idea that college students typically contract the coronavirus while off campus, which The Chronicle has identified as a major lesson learned from the virus’s spread this fall. —Francie Diep

11:47 a.m. Eastern, 12/9/2020

A Negative Outlook for Community Colleges

Lower enrollment and softening state revenues are two of the main reasons community colleges will face financial headwinds through the end of 2021, according to a Moody’s Investors Service analysis released on Monday. Community colleges have taken the largest hits to enrollment this fall — a 9.5-percent decline compared with a year ago — among institution types during the pandemic. Net tuition revenue, which is typically those colleges’ largest source of income, will decline by 5 to 15 percent in 2021, according to Moody’s. Those are just some of the ways the pandemic has made community colleges particularly vulnerable.

But Moody’s also noted that the colleges’ traditional flexibility was a strength for the sector, because having a largely part-time faculty “allows them to scale their academic labor force to match projected enrollment and revenues.” —Dan Berrett

12:35 p.m. Eastern, 12/8/2020

Colorado State Will Offer Pass/Fail Grading; U. of Maryland Won’t

Two flagship state universities are taking opposite stances on pass/fail grading this fall, as students across the country call for flexibility during another semester disrupted by the coronavirus.

In spite of the student backlash, the University of Maryland at College Park stands firm in its decision not to offer pass/fail grading this semester, its president, Darryll J. Pines, told his campus’s student newspaper on Monday.

The decision was announced on November 16 in a message from Mary Ann Rankin, the university’s senior vice president and provost, who wrote that pass/fail grading could hurt students’ academic and career prospects. The university instead extended the deadline to withdraw from courses.

Maryland students, who’d been offered the option of pass/fail grading in the spring semester, had petitioned for the same option this fall, citing pandemic-induced stress that caused some to struggle with their coursework. Rankin’s announcement drew a backlash, including a student-government resolution calling on administrators to reconsider the decision. Pines told the newspaper, The Diamondback, that the decision was final.

Meanwhile, Colorado State University at Fort Collins has announced it will offer a “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” grading option this semester to “address some of the extraordinary challenges resulting from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” according to its student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian.

Colorado State will also offer a late-withdrawal option. But in an email to students, the office of the provost and executive vice president warned that “withdrawing from required courses can delay progress toward timely graduation, which can be costly, in both the short and long term.” —Rachel Cieri Mull

4:25 p.m. Eastern, 12/7/2020

Washington, D.C., Links a Quarter of Its Outbreaks to Area Colleges

New data released by Washington, D.C., show that more than a quarter of its coronavirus outbreaks in the last four months were linked to colleges and universities. Higher education was associated with 30 outbreaks, the most observed for any category, including elementary and secondary schools, day care, and restaurants. Covid-19 has been transmitted among college students in the city even as some of its most prominent colleges — American, George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard Universities — pushed most of their operations online for the fall. —Andy Thomason

1:07 p.m. Eastern, 12/7/2020

Biden’s Pick to Lead CDC Criticized College Reopenings

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has previously had some sharp words for higher education.

Biden confirmed on Monday that he would appoint Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to lead America’s disease-control agency. Walensky’s public writing suggests she may have taken issue with the CDC’s approach to higher education in the early months of the pandemic; for instance, the agency waited many to months to recommend that colleges perform surveillance testing on their students, to the dismay of outside scientists.

In an op-ed published in the journal BMJ in September, Walensky and a co-author, Gavin Yamey of Duke University, excoriated colleges for how they reopened for in-person instruction in the fall. “It was risky: At the beginning of the month, the U.S. had about 55,000 new cases per day and no federal Covid-19 control plan or coordinated vision for safely reopening universities,” they wrote. “Today, the national reopening experiment already looks to have been a disaster.” They called college leaders’ attitudes toward student infections “cavalier.”

They called for several conditions to be met for colleges to operate in person while the pandemic continued, including that community transmission rates need to be low, below four new cases per 100,000 people per day, and that colleges must frequently test all students for the coronavirus. Walensky and Yamey criticized the CDC’s lack (at the time) of a recommendation to conduct surveillance testing, saying it “gave universities cover” to make the wrong choice. —Francie Diep

12:51 p.m. Eastern, 12/7/2020

Higher-Education Job Losses Now Top 500,000

Preliminary estimates suggest that a net 560,000 fewer workers were employed by America’s private (nonprofit and for-profit) and state-controlled institutions of higher education in October, compared with February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates industry-specific employee figures. Put another way, American universities and colleges have shed at least 12 percent of the workers they employed at the start of the pandemic.

The October numbers are the continuation of an unprecedented trend for higher ed, as explored in depth by The Chronicle earlier this year. At no point since the bureau began keeping industry tallies, in the late 1950s, have colleges and universities ever shed so many employees at such an incredible rate.

A November analysis by The Washington Post of employment trends in American higher ed found administrative workers — generally the lowest-paid workers in the industry — were suffering the most job losses relative to other classes of employees. —Dan Bauman

12:15 p.m. Eastern, 12/5/2020

Education Department Extends Relief for Student-Loan Borrowers

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Friday that because of the pandemic she was extending administrative forbearance of federal student loans through January 31, 2021. Borrowers can continue to suspend payments, and no interest will accrue, through that date.

“The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate,” she said in the announcement. “The Congress, not the executive branch, is in charge of student-loan policy.”

The extension is good news for student-loan borrowers, who have not always fared well under DeVos’s Education Department. She has actively blocked loan forgiveness for students whose colleges have gone out of business, arguing that students should not get “free money.” —Jennifer Ruark

10:30 a.m. Eastern, 12/5/2020

U. of Colorado Dean Apologizes for ‘Ill-Considered Remark’

“Never waste a good pandemic.” That’s how the University of Colorado at Boulder’s interim dean of arts and sciences explained to a reporter his proposal to reduce the number of tenure-track faculty members and replace them with instructors. Naturally, that remark became the headline.

In a “mea culpa” sent to colleagues soon afterward, the dean, W.C. White, apologized. “That was flippant and insensitive,” he wrote. He had been trying to make the point, he said, that “in times of crisis, like the one we are in, we are duty-bound to cut spending in a way most likely to preserve the long-term health of the college and its educational mission and protect the long-term prospects of its students.” His plan was not a fait accompli, he said, but a move that would be undertaken “only after consultation with faculty and staff generally and with our faculty-governance bodies specifically.”

The college, which lost $69 million in revenue when it shifted online last spring, will use early retirements of 60 faculty members to make up for this year’s budget shortfall. —Jennifer Ruark

11:19 a.m. Eastern, 12/4/2020

George Washington U. Walks Away From Plan to Shrink, Citing Pandemic

George Washington University appears to be abandoning its plan to shrink its undergraduate enrollment by 20 percent over five years, according to The GW Hatchet. The newspaper last week quoted the university’s president, Thomas J. LeBlanc, as saying that the plan had been made “obsolete.” He added: “We’re starting with a blank canvas here.”

The plan, which landed with something of a splash when it was announced last year, also called for the university to increase the share of STEM majors on its campus to 30 percent. “Our intention is to continue to improve everything we do at GW by being even more focused on quality and less focused on quantity,” LeBlanc wrote around the time of the announcement, saying that the goal was to “right-size our undergraduate student population.”

But Covid-19 has forced the university into remote learning this academic year, and the undergraduate enrollment shrank by more than 7 percent this fall. The university’s board chair last month said that the effects of the pandemic “will likely change or moot many of the assumptions underlying the 20/30 aspect of the strategic plan,” the Hatchet reported. —Andy Thomason

10:57 a.m. Eastern, 12/4/2020

Also Lost to the Pandemic: Campus Snow Days

The pandemic has spurred at least a few campuses to say goodbye to a tradition much loved by students: the campus snow day. The new ubiquity of remote learning, forced on higher education by Covid-19, has prompted the University of Missouri system and Cornell University to alter their inclement-weather policies, effectively nixing the snow day.

According to Missouri’s new policy, professors are expected to work remotely in the event of campus-closing weather. “Every faculty member has had the opportunity to view technology and explore the ways to utilize it for their classroom in a remote-learning setting,” Christian Basi, a university spokesperson, told the Columbia Missourian. At Cornell, an administrator wrote in an email this week that if the campus closed due to bad weather, students “may be required to take an online version of the missed class, as scheduled, if an online version is already available.” One student told the The Cornell Daily Sun that the new policy “will bring an entirely new meaning to seasonal depression.” —Andy Thomason

4:25 p.m. Eastern, 12/3/2020

Chancellor and Senior Administrators at East Carolina U. Will Take Furloughs Amid Pandemic Revenue Losses

East Carolina University will furlough 23 senior administrators — including the chancellor, chief of staff, vice chancellors, and deans — for 10 days to help make up for pandemic-related revenue losses.

The university estimates that the furlough days, which will be taken between December and the end of the fiscal year, in June, will save a quarter of a million dollars. Furloughs were announced earlier this semester for East Carolina staff members in student affairs, academic affairs, athletics, and administration and finance.

“Though it can’t make up for the losses experienced by some of our colleagues, I feel it’s important that our leadership take on some of the burden that we are asking of others,” the interim chancellor, Ron Mitchelson, said in a news release posted on Thursday. —Rachel Cieri Mull

12:27 p.m. Eastern, 12/3/2020

Pandemic-Induced Budget Cuts Prompt U. of Colorado to Reduce Tenure-Track Faculty, Add Instructors

The University of Colorado at Boulder plans to permanently reduce its number of tenure-track faculty positions and add more instructors to its College of Arts and Sciences, the interim dean announced on Wednesday.

The move to “rebalance the ratio” of tenure-track faculty members to instructors was prompted by pandemic-related budget cuts, James W.C. White wrote in a message to colleagues. Colorado took a $69-million revenue hit when the campus was forced to shift online last spring, he explained, and the college had to cut its budget by 7.7 percent.

This year the college will close the budget shortfall by giving 60 faculty members incentives to retire, White wrote, but without a more flexible budget, future deficits could force the college into more drastic action, such as eliminating programs.

According to White, cutting tenure-track faculty positions by 50 and adding 25 instructors would free up $6.2 million annually — funds that could be used for infrastructure, research support, retention, and an “‘excellent new ideas’ fund.” —Rachel Cieri Mull

2:27 p.m. Eastern, 12/2/2020

Recently Retired U. of Kentucky Professor Suffers ‘Covid-Related’ Death

Bruce Holle, a recently retired associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, has died — and “the cause of death was Covid-related,” a university spokesman confirmed in an email. “He was treasured by his colleagues and students, across decades, as a teacher, mentor, and friend prior to and after his retirement last spring,” wrote Jay Blanton in an email to The Chronicle. “He will be dearly missed.”

A department tribute on Holle’s retirement, from earlier this year, celebrated the professor’s long career of teaching at Kentucky. The tribute reads, in part:

Bruce was a student magnet, luring them up seventeen flights so they could extend the conversation with him beyond class about the history of Christianity. Or about the Byzantine Empire. Or about historical perspectives on the life of Jesus. Or about whether they should apply to grad school or to law school. Or about the Bears game last Sunday (about which Bruce, a Chicagoan’s Chicagoan, usually knew a lot). Or about the challenges of being a first-generation college student, as he was himself. Or about how they needed to raise their own game in his class, and what they needed to do to raise it.

Megan Zahneis

1:54 p.m. Eastern, 12/2/2020

Several Dozen Faculty Members Call on UNC to Stay Remote in Spring

Several dozen faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are calling on the institution to operate remotely in the spring, saying the campus is likely to be overwhelmed by transmission of Covid-19 when the semester begins. In an open letter in The Daily Tar Heel, the faculty members cited the recent decision by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which conducted a partly in-person fall, to scale back in-person activity for the spring. “We call on UNC administrators to put public health first, to show courageous leadership, and to accept the realities that the unchecked coronavirus has created for us all,” the faculty members wrote.

In August, facing spiking levels of infection, the university shelved its in-person fall plans just one week after the first day of classes — moving all instruction online and sending many students home. The university’s spring plan calls for housing students in only single-occupancy dorm rooms and conducting both entry testing and regular, surveillance testing. —Andy Thomason

3:20 p.m. Eastern, 12/1/2020

Harvard Will Bring More Undergrads Back to Dorms This Spring

Despite the rapid spread of Covid-19 nationwide, Harvard University will increase the number of undergraduates in campus housing this coming spring, filling all 3,100 bedrooms as singles.

In a message posted on Tuesday, the leaders of Harvard’s undergraduate college wrote that they had been “greatly encouraged” by lower-than-expected coronavirus-case numbers this fall — a cumulative total of 38 in the residential community, which housed mostly freshmen. They noted that the campus had maintained a positivity rate far below the surrounding Boston area.

This coming spring, seniors and those with special circumstances will have priority for on-campus housing, with juniors accommodated as capacity allows. Sophomores will continue to study remotely this year. Harvard, which charges nearly $50,000 for tuition, is offering eight summer-school credits free to students enrolled remotely for the full academic year.

The college also announced that the spring semester would include five wellness days scattered throughout the calendar in lieu of spring break. —Rachel Cieri Mull

11:20 a.m. Eastern, 12/1/2020

National Academies Release Recommendations for Campus Coronavirus Testing and Encouraging Safe Student Behavior

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published two sets of recommendations for colleges on Tuesday, one on coronavirus testing and the other on how to get students to wear masks, stay socially distant, and not party, based on the psychology of habit formation and young adulthood.

The guidance is fairly general. Particularly for testing strategies, no one size fits all because of differences in student housing, community-transmission rates, and access to tests, the report’s authors write. Among their recommendations:

  • Test asymptomatic students frequently (how frequently depends on your situation).
  • Analyze testing data regularly, and use it to target testing efforts. Colleges can, for example, temporarily administer even more tests when outbreaks arise in a residence hall or Greek-letter house.
  • Respond to positive tests quickly. Students who test positive should go into isolation “within hours, not days,” and their contacts ideally should be found and tested “3 to 5 days after exposure.”

The social-behavioral recommendations are similarly broad. Some highlights:

  • Young-adult brains tend to weigh the rewards of a risk more heavily than its costs. So a campaign that tells traditional college-age students that flouting public-health guidelines could make them sick won’t be very effective.
  • Instead, take advantage of young adults’ increased desire for social acceptance and responsibility. The report recommends messages about the campus community working together to prevent outbreaks, and how common good behavior is. (“More than X percent of students on our campus say they wear masks every day.”)
  • People of any age respond better when they hear they have agency and don’t feel fatalistic about the health problem they’re trying to avoid. The report suggests asking student leaders to come up with safer, socially distant activities for their peers. Bonus: Young adults are often more creative and flexible in solving problems than older adults are.
  • Research suggests that repeating misinformation, even in debunking campaigns, can actually reinforce false beliefs. Spread correct messages instead. —Francie Diep

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