How Universities Handled COVID-19

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by Chelsea Zhong ’21

The COVID-19 pandemic lasted over one year, and counting, and the power of the virus is clearly underestimated. A person can be easily infected with no symptoms of infection, spread unknown to friends and even strangers, leading to the infection of a group and a community. This unknown transmission of the virus is very common throughout universities, so many have strict COVID-19 safety measures.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, with 6400 students on campus and 31650 students enrolled, has one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19. In the beginning of September, 911 students and staff tested positive in a single week. Collaborating with a local biotechnology company which supplied PCR COVID tests, Wisconsin has infrastructure to analyze samples on campus. For the spring term, besides wearing masks and following the guidelines of the CDC, the school plans to test undergraduate students twice a week. Faculty and staff require a negative test within eight days of coming to campus. Students who tested positive and anyone known to be in contact with the infected person went into two week isolation. The school monitors contact tracing via a phone app for all students in the Madison area. 

Rice University in Houston, Texas runs PCR testing weekly for undergrads in dorms, and twice a week for staff, faculty and grad students. Student leaders play an important role in determining the COVID-19 precaution plan. COVID-19 Community Court includes selected representatives from eleven residential colleges. They help prepare educational materials on COVID-19 and set up a system to discipline those who break the rules. Students, faculty, and staff shall all report misconduct through an online portal. If you are caught without a mask in Rice University, you will end up “write a three-page essay on whether you think masks are good ideas or not” or doing community service hours on creating posters and flyers about COVID-19 precautions. All of these “punishments” are much better lessons than simple warnings.

Universities, where thousands of kids live and study, face challenges in infection control. They had no protocols to follow, only finding their own way through experimenting, failing, and correcting. 

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