The Fighting Irish will head back into classrooms next week after an eruption of COVID-19 clusters forced the University of Notre Dame to switch to virtual learning for two weeks.

Students are slated to begin returning in stages starting Wednesday and a letter laying out the specifics of in-person classes will be shared in the coming days, University President Rev. John Jenkins said Friday.

While the university continues to report new infections, “the daily number of new cases has gone down substantially,” Jenkins said. “With these encouraging numbers, we believe we can plan to return in person classes and return in stages to the level of activity we have before the pause.

Notre Dame halted in-person classes on Aug. 19, eight days into the fall semester, after 146 students and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.

The university is one of many that confronted an explosion of new cases after students started returning to campus.

The chief culprits? Fraternities and sororities and off-campus bashes where there was little social-distancing or mask-wearing.

And while well-known schools like the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill canceled classes and sent students home for the rest of the semester, Notre Dame went virtual for two weeks and embarked on a testing spree. Less than 1 percent of the 1,200 random tests done in recent days were positive.

“The number of cases diagnosed daily has declined substantially from our peaks last week, but we are still seeing new cases,” the school’s provost report states.

Jenkins reiterated the rules he expects students to follow.

“As we resume in person instruction, we must commit to the following,” Jenkins said. “First, wear masks, maintain physical distance and wash your hands. Second, complete honestly your daily health check, so that we can identify and immediately test symptomatic people, and isolate those who test positive.”

There will be more testing and students are barred from taking part “in social gatherings that exceed 10 people or at which health precautions are not strictly observed.”

But getting students to follow the rules is a challenge because some don’t take it seriously while others aren’t mature enough to understand they are endangering their classmates by behaving recklessly, experts have told NBC News.

And some grew up sheltered and are not prepared psychologically to deal with the pandemic.

“The virus is not affecting all communities equally which means that many students, especially those who are white and/or those who come from more privileged communities, enter college with no first-hand experience with people being sick and dying,” Northwestern University psychologist and family therapist Alexandra Solomon said in an email. “So to them all of this is very abstract.”

The elderly and infirm continue to be the most susceptible to the virus, which has infected nearly 6 million people in the U.S. and claimed more than 182,000 lives, the latest NBC News figures show.

Since June there have been reports of younger people making up a growing percentage of the new cases. And a recent study found the COVID-19 deaths have skyrocketed among young and working-age Latinos in California, which leads the nation with nearly 700,000 confirmed cases.

Four of the newest cases were Republicans who attended in-person Republican National Convention meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Mecklenburg County Public Health office reported Friday.

President Donald Trump barely touched on his administration’s much-criticized response to the pandemic in his RNC speech Thursday from the White House, but the U.S. now accounts for a about one-fifth of the more than 833,000 deaths and about a quarter of the more than 24.5 million confirmed cases worldwide.

Source : NBC News

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