When COVID-19 arrived in Nevada, schools and universities around the state had to adjust their normal operations practically overnight.
Classes were moved online, campuses were largely closed and the University of Nevada, Reno came up with a plan for the fall semester to bring students back while strictly limiting the number of people in class at any one time.
But earlier this month, university officials had to change their approach after it was revealed that the coronavirus was spreading on campus – and it was linked to new cases in the community, too.
UNR President sent a letter announcing the university would move back to fully remote instruction and asking students who live on-campus not to return after Thanksgiving break.
“We have had a number of cases on campus among our students and we felt like the responsible thing to do was to make this move to try to avoid an outbreak of cases that often occurs after holidays,” University Provost Kevin Carman told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Carman said he has talked to the leadership of other universities around the country and found most are doing the same thing.
Health officials have tracked one out of nine community coronavirus cases to the campus and the 18 to 24-year-old age range continues to represent the highest number of new cases.
Carman believes the university is doing all it can to prevent the spread of the virus on campus, but off-campus activities are driving the spread.
“We’re quite confident that most of the cases that are occurring are the result of social activities that are off-campus,” he said.
The provost said when students are on campus they wear masks and stay apart from each other but off-campus it is a different story.
“But young people are young people and they will interact and they do. There is no question that that contributes to the COVID cases,” he said.
The university did close its fitness center over concerns that the virus was being spread through the facility. Carman said when it reopens in the spring there will be more mitigation measures in place at the facility.
However, overall, at the university, he doesn't see how the school could be doing more for on-campus health and safety.
“There’s not a whole lot more that we can do on campus than what we’re doing now, which we think is being very effective,” he said.
Carman said a majority of classes were online anyway, and in-person classes, like labs, now have time to wrap up those sessions before the Thanksgiving break.
He said parents and students have been understanding of the decision, and students living in on-campus housing, who will not be returning, will get refunds.
While UNR has had more than 600 cases, UNLV has had less than 200 coronavirus cases. Carman doesn't have specific data on why that is but he speculated the difference is due to the nature of the campuses.
“Our campus is quite different than the UNLV campus," he said, "We have a high level of students living in dormitories. We have lots of students living in sororities and fraternizes near campus.”
Meanwhile, UNLV is more of a commuter campus with fewer opportunities to socialize on or near campus.
Kevin Carman, Provost and Executive Vice President, University of Nevada, Reno
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