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Some college students face stay-at-home orders as local leaders try to control Covid-19 spread

Posted September 19, 2020 3:00 a.m. EDT

— Hoping to slow an outbreak of Covid-19 cases among their students, a small college in Rhode Island announced a stay-at-home order this week.

"We are out of options," Providence College President Rev. Kenneth Sicard said Thursday. "If we are not successful, we will have no alternative other than to shut down our campus for the remainder of the fall semester."

The college moved to remote learning for at least a week after more than 80 students tested positive for the virus over two days, Sicard said. Indoor and outdoor gatherings and travel to bars, restaurants and neighborhood businesses are not allowed. Violations will result in "immediate interim suspensions," the president said.

The college's drastic moves echo similar measures university and local leaders have taken in recent weeks to keep Covid-19 cases at bay. Colleges and universities in all 50 states have reported infections.

In Michigan, local health officials announced a two-week "staying in place" order for Grand Valley State University students who live in one part of Ottawa county, according to a news article posted on the university's website.

The university also said Thursday it would reward students who complete Covid-19 self-assessments every day for the rest of the semester with $200, which would go toward the winter 2021 semester.

And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the State Liquor Authority to keep a closer eye on bars and restaurants where college students tend to gather to ensure they're following safety protocols.

So far, they've found "egregious violations" in several counties, the governor's office said in a statement.

"With significant outbreaks linked to colleges and universities across the nation, these stepped-up efforts will help keep our students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding communities safe," the statement said.

New Covid-19 cases tick up

The boost in efforts comes as daily Covid-19 cases in the US have been ticking up recently, ahead of what could be a complicated flu season.

Following weeks of decline, new daily cases averaged about 39,700 over a week as of Thursday. That average has risen in the past days to 13% higher than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

More than 6.7 million Americans have now been infected with the virus since the start of the pandemic and more than 198,500 people across the US have lost their lives, according to Johns Hopkins.

The Providence College president said off-campus students who are in isolation or quarantine should return home if they can while others will be relocated to campus facility or a hotel room.

But leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has warned against colleges sending infected students home, saying they could take the virus with them.

"You send them back to their community, you will in essence be reseeding with individuals who are capable of transmitting infection, many communities throughout the country," he said earlier this month. "So it's much, much better to have the capability to put them in a place where they could comfortably recover."

The virus hits some communities harder

Communities of color have already been hit much harder by the pandemic in the US.

"American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and African Americans have been hospitalized at rates 3.5 times higher than Whites," US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Thursday.

"Hospitalization rates are three times higher for Hispanics compared to Whites," he added.

The pandemic, Adams said, has both exploited and exacerbated the health disparities that exist throughout the country and has also highlighted structural conditions that contribute to those disparities.

"Social distancing and teleworking are critical to preventing spread of coronavirus, yet only one in five African Americans and one in six Hispanic Americans have a job that allows him to work from home," Adams said.

People of color are also more likely to live in "densely packed urban areas" and in multi-generational homes, he said, and take public transportation.

"Combined, these and other factors create a greater risk for spread of a highly contagious disease like Covid-19," he added.

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