Students brace for college life in age of COVID-19 following outbreak at UNC-Chapel Hill

Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Students brace for college life in age of COVID-19 crisis
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Move-in looked a bit different this year as masks and social distancing measures were in place as schools work to protect students from COVID-19.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The COVID-19 crisis is affecting the transition to college for many students.

Michigan State the latest school to announced Tuesday night that it will moving its classes online, just days before students were even set to return to campus.

Many students in the Chicago-area say they are anxious to get back to college life, even though it might not be for long.

Packing up to head back to campus is a task loaded with anxiety this year.

"We're thinking we're packing the necessities, but we're not trying to pack everything we might need for a full semester," said Purdue University sophomore Olivia Carlson.

The Carlson siblings say they are eager to get back to Purdue after months of being gone.

"I'm ready to be back among people even if the risk is a little higher," said senior Riley Carlson.

Both say they are all too aware they could be repacking all of this in a few weeks.

"We won't be at all surprised if we have to come back home," Riley said.

"I think we're just going try to be as careful as possible wearing our masks, social distancing," said Olivia. "The last thing I'd want to do is contribute to any rising cases and I'd like to help the school stay open as long as possible."

That lack of caution is what officials at Notre Dame University say caused COVID-19 cases to spike from 33 to 147 in a matter of days. The South Bend campus will effectively lock down starting Wednesday.

"For at least the next two weeks, we will move undergrad classes to remote instruction, close public spaces on campus, and restrict residence halls to residents only," said Notre Dame President Rev. John I Jenkins.

"You'll see people who have been having parties and going to the bars since being back," said Notre Dame senior Madison Kranz. "It's been hard to see that these outbreaks have started with these small groups of friends who weren't really listening."

"A lot of people on campus have been following the rules before every class I've been going to. I've never seen anyone not wearing a mask," said fellow student Declan Grogan. "But it seems that now people will be staying inside fully committing to these roles because I haven't met a single person that wants to be sent home."

Move-in also looked a bit different this year at North Central College in Naperville.

Move-in looked a bit different this year at North Central College in Naperville. Masks and social distancing measures were in place as the school worked to protect students from CO

Masks and social distancing measures were in place as the school worked to protect students from COVID-19.

Still, freshman Grace Julius couldn't be happier.

"I'm so excited to be at North Central," Julius said.

But amid the excitement, there's also concern after in-person classes for 29,000 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were canceled following several cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus.

"We are a smaller school so I feel like the bigger schools have more of an opportunity to have cases going on," said Kayla Podwidz, North Central College freshman.

The student body of the small private college is only about a tenth of the size of the public university.

"They've kept us up to date on what we needed to know. I felt very comfortable sending her," said Penny Julius, parent of Grace Julius.

Like other schools, students, staff and faculty must wear masks and socially distance while on campus.

"The protocols in place address the kinds of things Chapel Hill is seeing even to the monitoring on our own campus. What's happening in the community. What's happening at the state level and looking at whether a change of course is necessary," said Kimberly Sluis, student affairs vice president at North Central College.

Administrators say after student-athletes and students from high incident states were tested, the campus COVID-19 positivity rate is less than one percent.

Meanwhile, new student move in is definitely different this year. What would normally take place in one day has been spread over two days.

"Usually we have both staircases going up and down. This year we have one staircase that goes up. One that goes down," said Lucas Burris, dorm RA at North Central College.

A few of the COVID-19 outbreak clusters at the Chapel Hill were traced back to residence halls.

"So it's going to be how to find a way everyone can integrate together while enjoying themselves but not being in too much of a populated area," said Zachariah Robinson, who is also a dorm RA.

About 50-percent of classes are online or hybrid and dorm occupancy has been reduced 20-percent.

That is enough to give some parents a peace of mind.

"I'd rather see my child have at least some peace of mind about what this is like and what education is like and what going off to college is like, instead of withholding that and pulling it back," said Debra Schroedle, parent of a freshman student.

University of North Carolina announced Monday it will also be sending students home, setting the stage for an uncertain semester.

That's the kind of opening then re-closing chaos DePaul University in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood is trying to avoid. The have since decided campus will be empty this semester and all classes will be fully remote.