Earlier this week, the latest coronavirus tests at Gettysburg College showed an alarming rise in cases – a familiar problem as universities nationwide struggle with outbreaks among returning students. Some of those colleges have responded by going online-only, while others have tightened restrictions.
Gettysburg may be the first school to lock down every student in their dorms.
On Tuesday, administrators ordered everyone at the Pennsylvania college, which typically enrolls around 2,600 students, to stay in their rooms 24 hours a day for a full week, except for trips to the bathroom or to pick up food. As part of the new restrictions, students can’t leave to work out or to stroll outdoors, according to a memo from the college.
“I will say it’s a little hard to be stuck in a room 24/7. Especially, mentally. It’s good to get outside and get some air and to be able to walk around and get some exercise,” Lauren Mitchell, a Gettysburg student, told WHTM.
As the school imposed the tight new rules, some students blamed fraternities and sororities, suggesting the groups ignored social distancing and mask guidelines during their recruitment weeks. They also questioned why campus police didn’t more actively break up parties.
“I’ve seen [police] pass by parties and big groups of people and not do anything,” student Jersia Pimente told the Gettysburgian, the student newspaper.
Colleges around the U.S. have seen major outbreaks of covid-19 as students have returned to campus, and many have struggled to enforce mask guidelines and crack down on large parties. Thousands have been infected at schools like the University of Alabama and the University of Missouri, while other large schools, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame, quickly switched to online-only courses.
The outbreak has been comparatively small at Gettysburg, a liberal arts college near the Civil War battlefield. About two dozen students tested positive early this week, the school said, bringing its rate of positive tests up to 7 percent.
But Julie Ramsey, the college’s dean of students, suggested in a letter on Tuesday that the campus was at an “inflection point” and that drastic action was needed this week to tamp down on the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ramsey didn’t specify where the outbreak had started, though she noted in the letter that it was linked to “certain affinity groups or social gatherings” on campus.
For many students, though, the culprit was clear: the rise in cases coincided with rush week for the college’s fraternities and sororities, students told WHTM. After a town hall meeting with administrators, a few students held up cardboard signs outside the administrator’s hall demanding that Greek organizations be held more accountable.
“We were disappointed with the town hall and wish that the administration would stop beating around the bush,” student Oskar Wilander told the Gettysburgian.
The school informed students of the lockdown on Tuesday night, warning in a memo that anyone who breaks the rules will be kicked off campus. Besides food and bathroom breaks, the only reasons students can leave their rooms are for COVID-19 tests or to see a counselor. Anyone who chooses to leave campus rather than shelter in the dorms would have to ask the school’s permission to eventually come back.
While some students told WHTM they were optimistic that the tight rules would mean a quick return to in-person classes, others weren’t so sure.
“We might as well just pack it up and go home because I don’t really see cases decreasing here,” student Carter Zamora told the TV station.
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The Washington Post’s Antonia Farzan contributed to this report.