“Universities shouldn’t be bringing students back if they don’t have a reasonable and feasible plan in place to keep the infection from spreading on campus,” Carl Bergstrom, a biology professor at the University of Washington, said. “Without a plan like that, they’re in a really bad position and you’re trying to mitigate the harm that you’ve caused.”
Epidemiologists warned that outbreak control measures at certain schools could have unintended consequences — potentially increasing virus transmission on campuses, in college towns and students’ homes.
“The big picture here is that universities are providing opportunities for virus transmission on campus and, especially, off campus,” said Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago who develops predictive virus models for the state of Illinois. “Universities are not taking responsibility for the risks they are creating.”
A student at North Carolina State University, which recently switched to online instruction after a spate of virus clusters, said he packed up and went home — learning only several days later that he had developed Covid-19. At Tulane University, several students with possible virus symptoms or exposures said the school had transferred them to a dorm with quarantine and isolation units where they shared suites and bathrooms — housing conditions that they worried could foster infections.
One of those Tulane students, Elena Markowitz, a sophomore, said she moved into an isolation unit after she developed symptoms and was awaiting the results of a virus test. There, Ms. Markowitz explained in a TikTok video, she discovered that her suitemate, with whom she shared a bathroom, had tested positive for Covid-19. Ms. Markowitz subsequently received negative test results.
“I realized they could have exposed me to more than one person with the virus,” Ms. Markowitz said in an interview.
Scott Tims, Tulane’s assistant vice president for campus health, said that the school had placed together only those students with similar virus exposures and that it had stationed nurses around the clock at the isolation dorm.