Universities across the country are changing their fall schedules in hopes of avoiding what models forecast as a surge in coronavirus cases likely to sweep through the United States in early December.
Several prominent schools — Notre Dame University, the University of South Carolina, Purdue University in Indiana and Marquette University in Wisconsin — have already informed students that they will not hold classes in December.
The University of South Carolina canceled a fall break originally scheduled for the middle of October. In an email to students, university President Bob Caslen said the school would conclude in-person classes at Thanksgiving, with two remote learning days scheduled for the following week. Final exams will be conducted online.
"Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season," Caslen wrote.
Marquette will also end in-person courses just before Thanksgiving, giving students the chance to move out of their dorms ahead of the holiday. In a letter to students, Provost Kimo Ah Yun said the spring 2021 term would start a week later than usual, and that the school plans to hold next year's final exams in person in May.
The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said school would resume in person the week of Aug. 10, with plans to conclude the semester at Thanksgiving. Jenkins said in a letter to faculty that the university is developing plans to test, trace and quarantine any students who contract the coronavirus.
"Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed," Jenkins wrote. "We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet."
The plans are less dramatic than steps taken by the California State University system, which said it would cancel almost all in-person instruction in the fall.
But the universities reopening in the fall with in-person classes said they are worried a new round of coronavirus infections, which would coincide with the beginning of flu season, could jeopardize student safety and potentially spread the virus both in school dorms and across the country when students go home for planned breaks.
"These changes are part of the new normal that all of us must embrace as we return to campus for work and study, and they are necessary for us to successfully resume in-person instruction," Caslen wrote to South Carolina students. "This virus continues to ask a great deal of us, and we must be ready to respond thoughtfully to any development or situation.”