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Colleges reopening across the country have had mixed success handling virus

A student works outside Ehrighaus dormitory on Aug. 18 on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Gerry Broome)
A student works outside Ehrighaus dormitory on Aug. 18 on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Gerry Broome)

While many colleges across the country are opening the 2020-21 school year with mostly online learning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, a few schools have opened for in-person classes, with varying degrees of success. Here is a look at how a few have fared.

University of North Carolina

Chapel Hill, N.C.

The 30,000-student campus opened to a hybrid system of some in-person and some online classes on Aug. 10. Residence halls were at half capacity. A week later, as outbreaks cropped up in dorms and fraternity houses, and with 177 students testing positive for COVID-19, 349 in quarantine and a positive testing rate of nearly 14%, UNC reverted to an all-remote learning model.

University of Notre Dame

South Bend, Indiana

More than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students returned to Notre Dame two weeks earlier than usual, part of a plan to have the semester completed by Thanksgiving. On Aug. 18, the school announced it was pausing in-person classes for two weeks as cases began to climb. By Aug. 23, there were 448 cases on campus. A story in the South Bend Tribune on Thursday noted the school was hiring extra security, and Indiana State Police officers would be patrolling campus during evening and early morning hours after students were found violating quarantine orders. University President Rev. John Jenkins on Friday announced that in-person instruction would resume on Wednesday after seeing an “encouraging” decline in the positive test rate.

Creighton University

Omaha, Nebraska

Creighton, a Jesuit university with 4,400 undergraduate students, opened for in-person classes on Aug. 17, with masks worn in class and with daily temperature monitoring of students living in residence halls and off-campus. By the end of the first week of classes, the college was reporting 40 new COVID-19 cases among students and staff. Last week, the college announced it would offer voluntary coronavirus testing at no cost for students.

University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Classes resumed for roughly 38,000 students at Bama on Aug. 19. Seven days later, the university reported 562 cases among students, faculty and staff. The school has announced limits on activities and new restrictions for residents of Greek houses. As Alabama again tops the Princeton Review list of party schools, bars in Tuscaloosa are shut down for two weeks, and restaurants are curtailing bar service, per city order, to help deter students from congregating and partying, according to a news story on As of Thursday, an additional 481 cases were reported.

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

In early August, USC pulled back on its plans for a hybrid on-campus/online learning model, instead opting to go almost entirely online. Classes started on Aug. 17, and within a week there were 43 new cases and 100 students quarantined. As the Los Angeles Times noted on Monday, “many students remain in private apartments and houses off campus, where they have reported some parties and gatherings of people from different households, a situation one public heath expert called a ‘recipe for disaster.’ ”

Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

Administrators at this 70,000-student campus have been strict when it comes to safety rules, requiring masks, urging students to practice social distancing and prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people. The school created a team of 55 contact tracers. Students were required to take a COVID-19 test before moving into residence halls, and any student living in university housing will have mandatory regular testing going forward. Additionally, there will be random testing of asymptomatic students who live off-campus. Before classes even began on Tuesday, 228 students were suspended for violating rules around social gatherings. Last week, Ohio State reported 80 students and 12 employees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

University of Montana


Montana opened for in-person instruction on Aug. 19 and plans to end the semester before Thanksgiving. Masks are required for all students, staff and visitors, and UM urged students and staff to avoid crowds. Being in an area with a low incidence of coronavirus infection – as of Friday, there were just 47 active cases in all of Missoula County – puts UM in a good position. Hand-washing and sanitizing stations are readily available for the roughly 10,000 students on campus, classes are designed for social distancing and the school put up 10 large white event tents to serve as outdoor classrooms. “We’ve been very disciplined in our education awareness campaign,” university spokeswoman Paula Short said. “We’ve been very pleased. … Students seem to be taking seriously the need to exert personal responsibility and be a part of the community.”

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