NOTRE DAME, INDIANA (NYTIMES) - A week into the fall semester, the University of Notre Dame in the US state of Indiana announced Tuesday (Aug 18) that it would move to online instruction for at least the next two weeks in an attempt to control a growing coronavirus outbreak, and could move to shut down campus entirely.
"If these steps are not successful, we will have to send students home, as we did last spring," Notre Dame's president, the Rev John Jenkins, said in a video address to students, noting that he had been inclined to take that step before consulting with local health officials.
The announcement came as universities across the country are struggling to control fast-growing outbreaks among returning students.
On Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved all of its undergraduate classes online, also a week into the fall semester.
And Michigan State on Tuesday shifted its reopening plans, telling students not to return for the start of classes in two weeks.
At Notre Dame's campus near South Bend, Indiana, 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students were tested before they could return to campus Aug 3 to start classes a week later.
The few dozen who tested positive were told to stay home.
Yet by Tuesday, the school reported that at least 147 people had tested positive for the virus over the past two weeks.
Eighty of those confirmed cases were added this week, Notre Dame said. All but one were students. None are hospitalised.
The university said 927 people had been tested since Aug 3, leaving the school with a nearly 16 per cent positivity rate.
"The virus is a formidable foe," Jenkins said.
"For the past week, it has been winning."
A university spokesman said a significant number of the confirmed cases were connected to two off-campus parties where students, mostly seniors, did not wear masks or practice social distancing.
Most of those who have tested positive live in off-campus housing, the spokesman, Paul Browne, said.
Those students have now begun to infect students who did not attend the gatherings.
In addition to moving classes online, Notre Dame will close public spaces on campus and restrict dormitories to residents.
Students who live in off-campus housing have been barred from campus and must "associate with housemates only," Jenkins said, with a limit on gatherings reduced from 20 to 10 people.
Jenkins had previously defended the decision to reopen, saying in a New York Times Op-Ed: "We believe we can keep our campus environment healthy."
The university brought students back two weeks early, eliminated the fall break and planned to end the semester at Thanksgiving.
UNC, with 30,000 students, also started classes Aug 10, and by Monday, 177 students had tested positive for the coronavirus and another 349 students were forced to quarantine because of possible exposure.
At least four clusters had been identified in student housing, including one at a fraternity.
A day later, Michigan State's president sent a letter telling undergraduate students who had planned to live in campus housing to stay home.
He said that most of the university's courses were already being offered remotely, and that it would make all of them available online before school starts in two weeks, with some exceptions for graduate students.
"It has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of Covid-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus," the president, Dr Samuel Stanley Jr, wrote Tuesday.
He cited outbreaks at other universities as a large part of his decision.
Criticism and worry continue to plague other colleges hoping to offer in-person learning this fall.
In the last few days, widely circulated images of young people congregating without masks near campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama, and around Dahlonega, Georgia, home of the University of North Georgia, have raised concerns about students' cavalier attitudes to social distancing measures.
Virginia Tech's president, Tim Sands, sent a letter to students Tuesday pleading with them to be responsible or risk outbreaks like those on other campuses.
"For those who may wish to take a break - perhaps by hosting or attending a party with individuals not in your 'pod' - please don't," he wrote, adding, "There will be a day in the not-too-distant future when a degree of normalcy will return."