Chico State University
Chico State University warns of college campuses across California that are even offering some in-person courses and open dormitories to some students: Despite all plans and a significant reduction in the number of people on campus, the coronavirus pandemic may still force universities and students to close to send from campus.
The university opened its doors for the fall semester on Aug. 24 to about 750 students in their dormitories and those taking important courses like nursing. The university, a 90-minute drive north of Sacramento with about 17,000 students, is home to 2,200 people in a normal year.
But on Sunday, President Gayle Hutchinson didn’t announce until a week after the semester began that efforts to accommodate students and even welcome some of them to campus had failed, at least for the time being. “We did our best,” said Hutchinson, making Chico State the first public university in California to close its dormitories in the fall after students moved in.
On Wednesday, just three days after Chico State’s announcement, San Diego State University became the second campus in California to announce it would also cancel personal tuition for at least four weeks. Starting September 3, all in-person courses will continue virtually and re-evaluated for the restart face-to-face by October 5.
“These changes are intended to ensure that we can better reduce and contain the spread of Covid-19 so that we can put these restricted personal courses back into normal operation,” said the university.
The decision to close Chico state student dormitories and the few remaining personal classes is a sober warning to university officials across the state that they have limited control over their students’ off-campus activities.
The CSU locations were virtually online and there were limited in-person courses for courses that require hands-on learning. This follows Chancellor Tim White’s announcement in May that the CSU’s 23 locations would be largely virtual for the fall, making the system the first in the nation to go virtual due to the spread of the coronavirus.
In San Diego, the University and San Diego Department of Health confirmed 64 cases of Covid-19 in students since class began on Aug. 24. Most of these cases affect the off-campus community.
“We are aware of 15 cases of a total of 7,997 residents on campus since the beginning of the fall semester,” said the university, which defines the residents on campus as students who are enrolled in at least one personal class or who live on campus. The campus is home to about 2,600 students this year, down from about 7,500 in a normal year.
The university is working with the county health department to investigate cases among students living in an off-campus apartment building.
Unlike the state of Chico, the state of San Diego does not close its dormitories.
“Our students are welcome to stay, and we encourage those who are currently residing in dormitories to avoid spreading the community,” said the university, which has more than 130 places, to keep all positive students safe to isolate.
“I fully understand why the university had to go online this fall,” said Chloe Curtis, senior journalism and political science student at Chico State. “Driving home from work at night I’ve seen a lot of downtown parties and newbies leaving dorms in large groups without a mask.”
Curtis, who is also the editor of the student newspaper The Orion and who reported on the shutdown, said too many young adults in the 18- to 24-year-old group are working in “vulnerable environments” like retail and hospitality, she said. “You can attribute this surge to some things like socializing, working, moving out of populated areas” of the state, which also had widespread Covid-19 infections. Curtis wrote about the closure of the dormitory for the Orion.
Despite Chico State’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus on campus, it was the off-campus spread that ultimately forced the hand of the university.
The number of cases in Butte County, where the state of Chico is located, increased among 18- to 24-year-olds in late August. This age group leads the number of coronavirus cases in the county more than any other. And since Hutchinson’s announcement on Sunday, the number of cases in this age group has only increased in the Chico area.
Between August 24 – the first day of class at the university – and August 31, there were 557 confirmed Covid-19 cases in people ages 18 to 24, according to the Butte County Health Department. Of these cases, 464 were from people living in the Chico area. They now account for 78% of all coronavirus cases in Chico.
While the health department cannot confirm that all of these cases are college students, the surge coincides closely with the start of classes. That coincidence has forced public health officials to press young adults to limit their contact with other people.
“People who keep going to parties and mingling with others who don’t live in their immediate household put their friends, roommates, significant other, co-workers and family members at risk of getting Covid-19,” Robert Bernstein told the public by Butte County Health Commissioner.
Chico State isn’t the only one seeing a dramatic increase in campus-related coronavirus cases. At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, more than 1,000 students have tested positive since August 19. Georgia College, a small liberal arts school, Illinois State University, and the University of Iowa have all reported more than 500 positive student cases.
In Chico state and in the days leading up to Hutchinson’s decision, campus officials attempted to contain the virus when students, faculties, or staff appeared to contract it. They said they had followed the CDC’s recommendations and instructions from the CSU Chancellery and Governor Gavin Newsom’s office. Students were required to sign a health safety policy compliance agreement. The infected students living on campus were taken to studio apartments designated as “isolation rooms”.
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