Classes for UND’s fall semester began Monday. Thousands of students have returned to campus, coming from all points amid a national pandemic.

And as of Monday, UND had 187 self-reported cases of COVID-19 among its faculty, staff and students. The number has caused alarm, and for good reason – universities across the nation are seeing outbreaks and reversing earlier decisions to return to class.

The University of North Carolina is the most noted example. When students there tested positive for the virus, the school shut down in-person learning. The same happened at Notre Dame, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Meanwhile, news reports continue to show photos and videos of college-aged students in those towns and others congregating at parties and events.

As UND students get acquainted on campus this week, we urge them – in fact, we plead with them – to wear masks when indoors and in proximity to others and, especially, to adhere to social-distancing standards.

UND’s high case count has made news in recent days. It’s important to remember, however, that of those 187 cases, most were not actually linked to the physical campus. Instead, we suspect the bulk of them are students who were tested at remote sites, prior to coming to Grand Forks.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

It appears the high case count is a result of a massive testing initiative undertaken by the state, as well as at UND, in recent weeks. If there is a positive takeaway, it’s that these cases were discovered before students came back to campus. To us, the testing initiative worked.

But the numbers, both in North Dakota and nationwide, are discouraging and portend troubles – that is, if students are not serious about reducing the spread of coronavirus.

The statistics simply are not in their favor. The Herald reported Saturday that of 1,501 current active COVID-19 cases in North Dakota, some 400 were among people in their 20s.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported recently that college-aged Minnesotans “have by far the most coronavirus cases” and that the state’s health officials “have been pleading with college-age residents for weeks to limit their activities.”

The Herald’s report Saturday noted that there is just one solution to help limit the spread of coronavirus among college-aged residents: No parties or large gatherings.

Joshua Wynne, head of the NDUS “Smart Restart” task force and dean of the UND medical school, said UND is relying on students’ “personal responsibility and personal accountability.”

“We need students to behave like adults and help us get through this challenge,” he said.

It’s good that UND is pushing to have in-person classes this year. We want this to work, not just for UND but for the good of the community.

But it just cannot work if everybody – students, residents, businesses – does not act responsibly as this influx of newcomers moves into the community.

Conditions are ripe for an outbreak, and a few large gatherings could be the match that ignites it. Please, be careful and, most important, be responsible.