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Back in June, college felt like a sure thing for Arem Ozturk, her school in Pennsylvania, Dickinson College, emailed to say that classes were on all students would be back on campus in the fall.
I felt happy. I felt like I was I had something to look forward to. And that happiness lasted about a month or two.
Dickinson, like a lot of other colleges that had initially hoped to bring students back to campus this fall ultimately decided not to arem an international student. And the school said if she didn't want to go back home to Turkey, she could still live on campus and attend rmo classes. That sounded pretty lonely and expensive. So she rented an apartment in Philadelphia with some roommates. Monday was the first day of online classes.
It's heartbreaking for me, but I can't necessarily be mad at them because I do see their reasoning. Coming up, is college even possible while the virus is still with us? What two very different approaches tell us about getting students back to campus. This is considered this from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It is Tuesday, August 18th.
It's no secret that a lot of this is about money, colleges already lost billions of dollars when they went online in the spring, invested in remote technology and refunded room and board payments.
Then there's the money lost from canceled sports, not to mention falling enrollment. Some students delaying school because of the cost, not wanting to pay full price tuition for online classes.
But as more colleges try to reopen this month, the alternative doesn't look great either.
Coronavirus on campus just one week into the semester, the first major university students back home, the big one, UNC Chapel Hill, got a lot of attention this week for moving all undergraduate classes online.
Just one week after students got to campus. More than 130 students tested positive that first week.
And the school says it's going to try to be generous with refunds for on campus housing.
Massive cards on and off campuses at universities across the country amid a pandemic is the return to college life.
Health officials fear turns out part of what happened in Chapel Hill was a lot of off campus partying, and that is not going to help.
So what can colleges do from a public health perspective?
You know what doesn't work when a university says we will hold you accountable for having a party, when inevitably there is an outbreak at a party, students are going to be terrified to disclose that they were there.
Harvard epidemiologist Julia Markus, an HIV researcher, says shame and punishment are never good public health tools.
And we've already seen contact tracing start to break down outside of campuses because people are afraid to talk about having been at an event that that they know is something they they should not have been doing.
She says colleges shouldn't be surprised when there's an outbreak after reopening and that they shouldn't blame the students. But still, the risks are huge. So it's not just what's happening on campus, but how our activity on campus might have broader, very dangerous implications for the surrounding region. Professor Yianni LOCKSS teaches computing and design at Georgia Tech. He had his first class this week online, but some other classes at Georgia Tech are being taught in person, and he's worried that his campus in downtown Atlanta could be a risk for other people in the community, especially people of color.
There's going to be illness. There's going to be more deaths. And of course, we know that the virus has been disproportionately affecting people of color. And this is a minority majority city. And I worry about the impacts of that. So we're going to stay with Georgia here for a few minutes right now, Georgia has the highest number of cases per capita in the country, about an hour and a half east of Atlanta. In Athens, another big school is reopening this week.
The University of Georgia, which, by the way, is huge, almost 30000 undergrads last year and another 10000 people who work there.
NPR's Elissa Nadworny was in Athens this week when the first students started showing up.
Thousands of students are moving into the dorms this week in Athens, Georgia. There are familiar scenes of father and son unloading a futon from the back of their pickup truck.
You want to flip it over? Students with all sorts of stuff, mirrors, rugs, toaster ovens. I've got my suitcase and stuff in the bag and my book bag with all my school supplies in it. And I have my succulent. And her name is Susie. There were a lot of proud parents, the new student here, valedictorian from Milagro High and some dad jokes.
Hall gets here and a half hour, but this year it is different.
Only two people can come up to your dorm with you and students have to sign up for a time slot.
We got an hour to pack as much stuff and as you can, everyone has to wear masks and put the mask on. And folks packed lots and lots of cleaning supplies. This is like all the cleaning stuff we want to clean and stuff, but it's mostly like wipes and stuff to wipe everything down at the end of the day and hopefully not get covered on the way into Russell Hall, a mostly freshman dorm that houses about 900 students, we met Kelsey Lawrence, a freshman.
I brought all my clothes and my shoes. I probably won't have enough space for all of it, but I'm going to try. Since Kelsey was only allowed to helper's, her dad and sister had up to her room leaving mom Vanessa outside. I see is prepare what everything that you would need if she did get it. So I sent automatic clothes and all. Everything. Vanessa's voice is a bit muffled because she's wearing a mask. They're not going to follow the rules.
I mean, you have some that will, some that won't.
But she thinks Kelsey will get better care at UGA than at home. And with Kelsey on campus, no one else in the family is at risk if she gets exposed. But that doesn't mean Mom isn't anxious. Now, am I going to be up all night tonight? Yeah, I'll be honest about that. Yeah. Across campus in the art building, Professor John Swindler is prepping the studios for Thursday. That's when classes start, many of them in person.
Faculty and staff have been working for months to come up with creative solutions to do in-person teaching.
We looked at a lot of different options. You know, we even we're looking into the possibility of holding classes in a parking garage.
They have easels set up outside for painting classes where it's easier to social distance inside. Studios have been totally reconfigured.
But here you come on. A swindler brings us into a drawing studio. Normally there'd be about eighteen students in here.
And so this semester it's going to look and feel very different because it's going to be about six or seven at a time.
And here the school has invested not just time but financial resources into this reopening. The university is processing hundreds of covert tests a day for students and staff. They spent about eight hundred thousand dollars to send out masks and thermometers.
But all of that effort on campus is for naught when night falls and students head off campus to party.
By 11 p.m., the bar strip in downtown Athens is overflowing, there are students reuniting there, hugging. They're talking really closely. They're not social distancing. Most are not wearing masks. And the success of the college's reopening plan, it's ultimately going to be decided in a place like this. NPR's Melissa Nadworny. OK, so we have some examples of what can go wrong when colleges and universities open back up.
What about when it might be going right? At the service academies for the Army, Navy and Air Force students are required to follow strict safety protocols and they get regular testing with results available and hours, not days, like it is for the rest of us. And so far, it's working.
Turns out in the military, coordination and logistics are part of the deal. So are following orders. NPR's Secoya Carrillo's starts her report at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
I think this is your last ride on a wide open expanse right next to the dining hall here in Annapolis.
Young men and women in crisp white uniforms and white masks are doing what students here have been doing for 175 years, taking their first steps to becoming officers in the United States Navy.
But the attitude is, you know, we we do not have a choice. We must make this work.
Andrew Phillips is the academic dean and provost of the United States Naval Academy. Classes officially began this week in an online format, but Phillips says they'll build their way back to in-person classes as quickly as possible.
We're not going to take a year to figure that out. We're going to take about a month. And it's not just Annapolis. At the Army's West Point campus in New York State and the Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs, educators and students are, for the most part, settling back into their daily routines. The Air Force Academy was the first service academy to have all of its students back on campus. And so far, officials have said there's no community spread at West Point.
About 60 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, cadets have been arriving and waves everything planned with military precision.
You know, we had the arrival day and even their arrival times planned so that those cohorts would be built from the very beginning.
Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard, West Point's commandant, says virtually every step was mapped out in those first two weeks.
Certain companies use certain stairwells, certain hallways, certain bathrooms.
West Point is in many ways made for quarantine. There's a grocery store, an elementary school and full neighborhoods for teachers and faculty inside its gates. Cadet Evan Walker says she feels safer here than she did back home in Houston.
People were just acting like there was nothing wrong and refused to wear masks or didn't want to stay at home, which was kind of frustrating to me, honestly. And so being here, I appreciate it.
I tell myself here in Annapolis, all students should be out of quarantine by next week since their campus is smaller and less isolated.
The restrictions during quarantine were severe.
Asking somebody to stay confined to a room for two weeks is a very difficult thing to do, and it takes a lot of self-discipline.
Midshipman Korwin States is a rising senior here. He's also in charge of training a group of incoming first year students. I got to see him in action on one of the final days of summer. Right, as the students finished their marching drill in front of your face.
A lot of times when we saw officials at the academies are hopeful that all that discipline, all that testing, all the restrictions will get them through the year safely.
And even then, with all these rules in Annapolis, I saw some students at three feet away from each other rather than six or out running without masks and stopping to chat with friends, even with military precision. There are things you can't control.
NPR's Secoya Cerrillo additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered. And a reminder that all week long NPR is covering the Democratic National Convention. You can follow our coverage every evening on Unpeg. You can ask your smart speaker to play NPR. The NPR Politics podcast has recaps every morning. And of course, you can listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station is what makes this podcast possible. I'm Kelly McEvers. Will be back with more tomorrow.
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