Universities that reopened are already reporting clusters of coronavirus cases

A delivery is made on an otherwise deserted campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., on March 18, 2020. The UNC system announced that it would be instructing students to return to their permanent address unless granted an exception to remain in university housing due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

By Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) -- Some American universities that have reopened their campuses to students have already reported clusters of coronavirus cases, while others have seen flagrant violations of their public health plans.

University of North Carolina and Oklahoma State University reported clusters of new cases among students this weekend. And social media videos at a University of North Georgia off-campus housing complex showed a massive party with few wearing masks.

"We are disappointed that many of our students chose to ignore Covid-19 public health guidance by congregating in a large group without social distancing or face coverings," Sylvia Carson, UNG's executive director of communications, told CNN in an email.

Taken together, the clusters and the party neatly illustrate the difficulties of bringing young people into proximity during the pandemic and comes as students are starting to return to campuses for in-person classes, remote learning, or both.

The spread of the virus can be limited if people follow public health guidelines like social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing. But getting people to follow that advice has proven to be tricky -- particularly so for college-aged students, who led the summer surge in coronavirus cases.

"It is just not paying attention to human psychology if you think you're going to be able to put those kids back together and not have them go and party," said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate professor of Emergency Medicine at Brown University.

"Any of us who were young adults know what it's like to be in your late teens and early 20s. It's up to those colleges to make it easy for those kids to do the right thing, to do regular testing, have mask mandates, have masks easily available, and if needed, to shut down those campuses," she told CNN.

Young people generally have less severe outcomes from Covid-19 infection. But they are not immune to the virus and can still spread it to others who are more vulnerable.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that the virus spreading anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.

"What we have to do is recognize that we're all in it together," he told CNN."And any one group or any one part of the country that gets infected or has a high rate of disease is a risk potentially to every other age group and every other part of the country."

Clusters at UNC and Oklahoma State

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, just 22.5% of surveyed universities say that they will hold classes fully in person or primarily in person. Some of those that have opened campuses or held classes recently are already seeing cases, even with protections in place.

Less than a week into the start of classes, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced a fourth cluster of Covid-19 cases on campus.

The latest cluster, defined as five or more cases in proximity, was traced to the Hinton James residence hall, UNC said Sunday. The individuals in the cluster have been identified. They are isolating and receiving medical monitoring, the university said.

On Saturday, UNC announced a cluster of coronavirus cases at the Sigma Nu fraternity. And on Friday, the university identified a cluster at the Ehringhaus Community, a residence hall, and at the Granville Towers, a private apartment complex that serves as a housing option for some students.

Two universities in Oklahoma have also seen a significant number of cases.

An Oklahoma State University sorority house is under quarantine after 23 members tested positive for Covid-19, according to the university.

"Last night OSU officials learned of 23 positive COVID cases in an off-campus sorority house. The rapid antigen testing was performed at an off-campus health care facility," a statement from the university read.

The entire sorority house is in isolation or quarantine after the confirmed cases, and residents "will be prohibited from leaving the facility," the university said.

At the University of Oklahoma, nine football players tested positive for the coronavirus as the Big 12, its conference, continues to gear up for fall football, head coach Lincoln Riley said Saturday.

The test results came back after the team had returned from a one-week break from pre-season practice.

"We've done such a tremendous job this entire time. You know when (you) give players time, there is risk in that. This isn't the NBA, we don't have a bubble. We all have to continue to work to do a better job by all accounts. We're still confident in the plan that we have," Riley said.

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