Health and Science

Notre Dame temporarily shifts to remote classes to try to curb coronavirus outbreak, warns it may send students home

Key Points
  • The University of Notre Dame will move undergraduate instruction online for two weeks in an attempt to curb the coronavirus. 
  • Cases have ballooned since the university reported its first positive case on Aug. 6.
Students on campus at the University of Notre Dame
Alfredo Sosa | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

The University of Notre Dame will move undergraduate instruction online for two weeks to try to curb a coronavirus outbreak on campus, warning that it may send students home if cases don't fall, President Rev. John Jenkins said Tuesday. 

"If these steps are not successful, we'll have to send students home as we did last spring," Jenkins warned during a conference call. "The virus is a formidable foe. For the past week it has been winning."

Jenkins' remarks come after an off-campus party has led to a spike in coronavirus cases at Notre Dame, which is now reporting more than 140 total cases since the school started tracking them about two weeks ago, according to its coronavirus dashboard last updated Tuesday.

"Our contact tracing analysis indicates that most infections are coming from off-campus gatherings. Students infected at those gatherings passed it on to others who in turn passed the virus on to a further group, resulting in the positive cases we have seen," Jenkins said. 

Monday's total marks an additional 80 cases since Sunday after the university revised its case count. Half of the 30 tests processed on Sunday alone were positive, according to the dashboard. 

Cases have ballooned since the university reported its first positive case Aug. 6, with nearly 16% of the 927 tests conducted so far returning positive. 

Nearly 12,000 students were tested before arriving on campus as part of the university's pre-screening efforts, and only 33 tests, well below 1%, came back positive, according to the school

Off-campus students are barred from entering Notre Dame's campus until further notice, Jenkins said. Groups on or off campus can't grow beyond 10 people and all on-site students will be encouraged to leave campus only for emergencies, according to the order. 

Notre Dame will "enhance" its existing testing protocols for both students who are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, as well as surveillance testing for asymptomatic individuals, Jenkins said. 

"Such testing should catch positive cases early and help to contain the spread of the virus," he said.

The two-week shift to remote instruction begins Wednesday.

Before Tuesday's announcement, the vast majority of Notre Dame's classes were being held in-person but with modifications to reduce density, university spokesman Paul Browne recently told CNBC. 

Classes were broken up into smaller groups, for example, and large event spaces on campus were converted to classrooms, Browne said. Students also were to have assigned seats to make contact tracing easier, he added. 

Browne told the South Bend Tribune on Friday that many of the cases were traced to an off-campus party. He said partygoers didn't social distance or wear face coverings.

"What it reinforces is our concern that it only takes a weak link," Browne told the Tribune. "You can have a very strong chain, but if you have only one weak link, it can cause numbers to spike."

Notre Dame isn't the only university trying to contain outbreaks since reopening its campus. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced on Monday that it's canceling in-person undergraduate classes after an outbreak spread across its campus within a couple of weeks. 

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