An Explosion of COVID-19 on Our Campuses

3,200 New Cases Every Day from July to September

The original sin was inviting the students back to campus—Michael Innis-Jimenez, University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa (2,690 cases)

What we didn’t model for is that people would choose to go to a party if they knew that they were positive.—Martin Burke, University of Illinois

The virus beat us.—Robert Kelchen, Seaton Hall University

By one set of measures, the U.S. ranks 131st in the world in controlling the coronavirus. Researchers at rank countries in three categories: those that have “beat the virus” (30); those that are “nearly there” (14); and those that “need action,” where the U.S., Brazil, Sweden, and Israel join 97 other nations.

When Israel opened its schools in late May, they experienced a huge virus outbreak, which, as one news source reported, “forced hundreds of schools to close, and tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined.” Responding to 4,000 daily new coronavirus infections (the most per capita in the world), Israel is now undergoing a second 14-day lockdown.

U.S. Has Not “Turned the Corner”

“Out of control” most aptly describes government mismanagement in the U.S., Brazil, and India. A Trump inspired premature opening of American businesses and schools, primarily in the South, led to record number of cases and deaths in July. Memorial Day celebrations may have been a primary driver.

Trump’s fatuous claim that “we have turned the corner,” belies a Labor Day spike and the opening of schools, colleges, and universities. Virus cases rose 22 percent two weeks after the holiday and deaths increased 5 percent as of September 24.

Many Campus Residences in Quarantine

According to a recent analysis, Wisconsin is the only blue state among 11 red states that have the most cases per capita, and that is most likely because the University of Wisconsin-Madison has 2,775+ cases and has suspended in-person instruction. (At one time 65 percent of Dane County’s cases were UW students.) Two dorms are now in quarantine, and the county commissioners are considering sending all dorm residents home.

Other authorities, including the White House’s Debra Birx, have warned that sending students home without testing them will only further spread the virus. At the University of Illinois, the administration has locked down its dormitories and allow students out only for classes and medical emergencies.

Faced with a tripling of cases, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has run out of quarantine space and has told some uninfected students to move out of their dorms. At the University of Arizona, all students on campus and within a specified perimeter are being told to shelter in place for 14 days. Other universities that have mandated a two-week quarantine include University of Colorado, North Carolina State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame.

“Beyond our Wildest Nightmares”

Gavin Yamey, a Duke professor of Global Health, exclaims: “It has been beyond our wildest nightmares. It has been a debacle and a national catastrophe. It was a self-inflicted national wound.” Duke has the lowest infection rate on the nation’s campuses, but Yamey still recommends that all students be tested before they go home for Thanksgiving break.

College Towns: 3,200 Extra Cases per day

An incomplete survey of 1,472 campuses updated frequently by the National Education Association reported 196,672 coronavirus cases and 125 deaths on October 10. (See site at Researchers from three institutions have done a more comprehensive study using cell phone and GPS data. They estimate that 3,200 extra cases per day appeared in college towns from mid-July to mid-September. This was the same method that produced the 267,000 death-estimate for new cases stemming from the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.

About 40 percent of college and university campuses were set to open for in-person classes, but only 25 percent have met that goal and the rest have gone to on-line teaching. Nine of 15 major public universities have switched to virtual instruction. Tim White, former University of Idaho president and now Chancellor of the 23-campus California State University (the largest in the nation), has moved his 484,300 students on-line.

“Close Fraternity Houses. Period”

Pittsburgh Regional Health released a survey of public health experts on how colleges should respond to virus outbreaks. One of the report’s conclusions was: “Close fraternity houses. Period.”

Officials at Indiana University-Bloomington requested that all Greek houses close for the semester, but negotiations led to suspending 40 and locking down the rest. After a party at the Acacia Fraternity house, 88 percent of its members tested positive.

Purdue University has quarantined 23 fraternities, sororities and other student housing, and Boise State University has suspended three fraternities and 18 students for violating virus regulations. The University of Idaho has locked down 8 Greek houses. I turned in Lambda Alpha Theta on September 5, but it took the rest of the month (and many more infections) for the administration to act.

Some Administrators are the Problem

The administration at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa warned faculty not to discuss the pandemic or have students report positive cases to them. University of Missouri president Mun Choi had blocked his Twitter account after receiving complaints about his COVID policies, but the backlash was so great that he unblocked it.

Students at Notre Dame University have demanded that their president resign after he mingled unmasked in the crowd gathered at the White House after the announcement of Amy Comey Barret’s nomination to the Supreme Court. A journalist was not able to identify whom bystanders said was a college president lining up unmasked for selfies at a Maryland bar.

Athletes, COVID-19, and Myocarditis

The University of Idaho promised that it would update its athletic case numbers by August 31, but it has yet to do so. During the month of July, 9 athletes had tested positive and two staff as well. I could not find any data for Idaho State University athletes. Boise State University has reported 77 cases among its athletes and a 7.3 percent positivity rate. The CDC considers 5 percent and below that for safe personal interactions, and any county rate above 10 percent puts them a “red zone.”

ESPN surveyed 65 athletic powerhouses and one-third did not provide coronavirus protocols nor did they release case numbers. This information is imperative because 15 percent of college athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be fatal.

In August Jamain Stephens, a promising football recruit at Pennsylvania’s California University, came down with the virus and then suddenly died of a blood clot. Neither Stephens nor his team members were tested for the virus, no temperatures were taken, and there was no contact tracing.

Ed Orgeron, Louisiana State’s football coach, reported that “most of his players had contracted the virus.” Several other athletic coaches have tested positive. After 27 tested positive, every athlete at Miami University in Ohio will have to isolate for two weeks. All athletic activity at the University of Maryland-College Park was halted after positive results rose sharply.

At Least 98 Post-COVID Illnesses

Dr. Natalie Lambert has conducted a COVID-19 “Long Hauler” survey, and she has found 98 long-lasting conditions due to the virus, many in young people. They people are experiencing cognitive dysfunction or memory loss; some have lung pain, hypoxia, or profound fatigue; others have had strokes, blood clots, numbness, hearing loss, increased heart rate, or cardiac dysfunction.

COVID-19’s “Long Tail”

Over 500,000 children have now tested positive for the virus, and doctors say that some of them may suffer from post-COVID illnesses for the rest of their lives. They will of course need treatment much longer than older patients.

One doctor warned that “if someone in their teens and 20s suffers a stroke or embolism, it could impact their long-term life choices in profound ways.” CNN anchor and virus survivor Richard Quest has warned that “COVID is a tornado with a very long tail.”

Virus Increases at U. of Idaho and Washington State

A local columnist for the Moscow-Pullman newspaper to reassure his readers that, as there have been no local hospitalizations or deaths, we should not be worried. Since he wrote, there have been six virus admissions at local hospitals and two deaths.

According to the CDC, hospitalization rates have risen to 100 per 100,000 among ages 0-29, with an alarming 17 per 100,000 for children 0-4 years old, and 74 per 100,000 for age group 18-29.

The first round of testing at the University of Idaho in Moscow found 34 cases, but after a Labor Day spike, the total is now 307—41 percent increase since September 21 and 46 percent of the cases in Latah County since the same date.

Washington State University (8 miles away from the UI) now has over 900 cases and Pullman made national headlines for college towns that have the highest per capita numbers. (The UI has now taken WSU’s place on the New York Times’ COVID-19 map as a national hot spot.) The total case numbers in Whitman County is currently 1,458. Following national trends, the largest group of new infections for Whitman and Latah County is people from 18-29.

From September 6-12 the percentage of those who tested positive in Whitman County was an alarming 19 percent. The UI positivity rate has now climbed to 8.35 percent. The rate state-wide for Idaho is 10.2 percent. Johns Hopkins University has reported a 22 percent infection rate for Idaho, but state health officials have declared that researchers there have used different data. 

Because of high infection rates in their respective counties, Trump’s Task Force has  requested that BSU, UI, and Brigham Young University-Idaho switch to on-line instruction. UI officials have resisted saying that the recommendation was based on false positivity rates. (Latah County, however, is in the “red zone” with a rate 11 percent.) Nevertheless, they have now decided to test every student on campus, and the administration will reconsider their commitment in in-class instruction.

Good Virus Positivity Rate at Boise State

Idaho State University has reported 217 cases among students and staff, which is 16 percent of Bannock County’s 1,346 cases. (No positivity rate for ISU was available.) With about double the number of students, Boise State University has 402 cases with a low 2.74 percent infection rate. This shows that there has been enough testing to validate good progress on controlling the virus.

BSU-AFT President Tedd McDonald emailed me that currently about half of the institution’s classes are now taught on-line, but the UI administration has not been so flexible. UI-AFT President Dale Graden reported that about 150 faculty have asked to teach solely on-line, but their requests were declined. In the wake of the challenge about high positivity rates, UI faculty can now choose on-line instruction.

BSU’s McDonald was pleased that the administration was so inclusive in consulting faculty and staff. My research shows that this has generally been the case across the nation. One headline asked: “Will COVID Bring Power Back to the Faculty”?

SUNY Faculty Union Guaranties Safe Campuses

The United University Professionals (AFT), the largest faculty union in the nation, represents faculty and professional staff at the 29-campus State University of New York.  The union has just reached an agreement with its administration on a comprehensive virus testing program.

The AFT’s detailed “Plan to Safely Reopen Schools and Communities” is being used in school districts nation-wide. If the Trump administration had controlled the virus as other countries have, then our students, our workers, and our economy would be in far better shape.

Nick Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. He was president of the Higher Education Council of the Idaho Federation of Teachers from 2004 to 2020. Read his other columns on the virus at (search “coronavirus”) Read his columns on higher education at Email him at

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