We’re one week into the fall semester here at the University of Kentucky. Classes have begun, most of them virtually, a few in-person, and are proceeding with extreme caution, considering the pandemic’s abundant pitfalls to campus-crowded college students.
A week ago, I chronicled the move-in experience and the precautions laid out for students living on campus and praised what I thought were sturdy regulations. Seven days later, there are…mixed but mostly-expected results, although I tend to have a more positive outlook than most.
Let’s get right to the testing numbers. Here, you can find active updates on the total number of students tested, the number of positive tests and the percentage breakdown. I’ll note the link is currently updated through just this past Wednesday before many students received took their tests (I was negative!). Here are the numbers, as most recently updated:
Out of 21,981 University of Kentucky students tested upon arrival, just 245 students tested positive for COVID-19 for a 1.1 percent positivity rate. At first glance, 245 is higher than both the 135 figure North Carolina hit before closing classes and Notre Dame’s 147 that forced them to cancel in-person classes for two weeks. However, Notre Dame, North Carolina and many colleges across the country did not require every student to get tested as Kentucky did, and their positivity rates are above 10% with smaller populations.
Given Kentucky has tested over 20,000 students, 1% is a rather reasonable rate. I’d go as far as to say that if the rate — more importantly, the total number of cases — steadies where it currently sits, in-person class might be possible for a few more weeks/months.
Two groups on campus are not helping the cause: Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) and Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL).
Take a look last week’s CSF luau at how NOT to prevent the spread of coronavirus:
— Rickey Hook (@hook_rickey) August 15, 2020
Widespread mask-less-ness and social swarming. These are the exact type of events that will super-spread the virus and force the University to close campus. And this COVID catastrophe was ON campus right next to five of the prominent freshmen dorms. Why the University allowed them to run an event such as this without any supervision is puzzling.
Unsurprisingly, CSF was banned from hosting events for the rest of the week.
The University also made the unpopular decision to require all students affiliated with fraternities and sororities to be tested a second time in the coming weeks, according to the Kentucky Kernel. President Eli Capiluoto cited a positivity rate among Greek Life members that was triple (roughly 3%) the rest of the campus’s population as the chief reason and said he would retest other groups around campus if their rates rose.
This news shocked nobody. Of course, the organizations that are known for their party atmosphere (yes, you too, CSF) would kick-start COVID clusters.
As for campus itself, unconventional is the word I’d use. Between the Midtown-Manhatten volume of construction and the coronavirus precautions, campus has a totally separate look from the gorgeous ghost town I last took a trip through in March.
Here are just a few changes I photographed throughout the week:
White tents are laid out all over campus as pavilion-style replacement hangouts. Cafeterias are open only for to-go pickup and there is limited indoor study space available. Students can convene outdoors — where the virus is less likely to spread — to dine or relax between classes.
Speaking of dining, with Papa Johns, Taco Bell and other on-campus eating establishments closed up indoors, a few fooderies have taken to the streets with trucks in the area surrounding William T. Young Library. Chick-fil-A, pizza, taco stands, and a variety of other options are available students to pick up meals at minimal risk and take home or eat in the pavilions.
A few more corrupted basketball courts.
The largest gym on campus, the Johnson Center (or JC) used the extra space to distance some of their workout machines (awesome idea!). When I went, it was a little more packed in the main area than would be ideal, but avoiding risk was still quite easy so long as you snaked around the six-foot-spread and made sure to wipe down equipment before and after use.
In the classroom, I commend the faculty’s efforts holding safe and academically-effective in-person classes. More classes than not have moved exclusively online, but not for journalists. I consider myself fortunate to get to go to a few in-person classes every week because (a) campus, while safety-smattered, is still a comfortable and enjoyable environment; and (b) personally, learning in-person is twelve-times more engaging.
The classrooms I’ve attended had seats that were six-feet apart, students who, from my witness, unanimously followed the mask mandate and plenty of spare face coverings and hand sanitizer provided by professors. Once you get past the meager breath-bating annoyance of masks, class rolls on nearly normal.
Although, it’s hard not to get discouraged after my first teacher walked in and said “we’ll see how long we’re here” with a grim half-frown.
I’m hoping it’s for a little while longer.