Officials at Auburn University and the University of Alabama are issuing warnings to students about the future of in-person classes following upticks in positive tests around the campuses and numerous videos and pictures of packed bars and large crowds of people not wearing face coverings.
Just days into the semester, Alabama has already canceled all on-campus events for the next 14 days and informed students that they could be subject to “harsh disciplinary action” for failing to follow health and safety protocols.
Those warnings came after a UA vice president told student groups that the campus would soon run out of quarantine areas and that the rates of positive tests are increasing dramatically.
“Despite the robust testing, training, health and safety measures we carefully and clearly implemented, there is an unacceptable rise in positive COVID cases on our campus,” UA President Stuart Bell wrote to students. “Make no mistake, this trend is a real threat to our ability to complete the semester on campus.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, Auburn University officials have confirmed dozens of positive tests among students and staff over the past few days and said they will begin investigating online pictures of packed bars around the campus.
Auburn reported 41 COVID cases for the past week — the first week of classes. That number is expected to rise significantly in the coming days, after numerous media outlets published photos of young people, presumably mostly students, jam-packed into bars, with no facemasks in sight.
Many of those photos and videos were shared by prominent Auburn athletes, helping with their spread and also increasing the outrage. In response, the university issued a statement reminding students that they can report any student for violating health and safety guidelines and putting the campus at risk.
“Auburn’s Code of Student Conduct pertains to students on campus and situationally off campus,” the university said in a statement. “The code speaks to the utmost importance of the health, safety and welfare of students and can be applied to a student’s or organization’s behavior involving health and safety wherever it occurs. The code notes that students should alert appropriate officials of any substantial information that a student’s or student organization’s presence on campus is potentially dangerous to the health of the university community.”
The problems controlling COVID spread around campus is not unexpected, especially given events around the country. Several colleges, including North Carolina and Notre Dame, started and stopped in-person classes within a week after outbreaks of the virus around their campuses.
Both Auburn and Alabama reported extremely low positivity rates for students who were tested either shortly after arriving on campus or in the days leading up. Those rates appear to be increasing sharply as more testing is conducted on campus.