IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Notre Dame sending students back to class next week — even as new COVID-19 cases reported

The university halted in-person classes on Aug. 19, eight days into the fall semester, after 146 students and a staff member tested positive.
Campus scene University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.Don and Melinda Crawford / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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.

In other developments:

  • A 25-year-old Nevada man appears to be the nation's first confirmed case of COVID-19 reinfection, according to a study. He tested positive in mid-April and recovered, but got sick again in late May. And this time it was more severe. Why is this worrisome? Because scientists searching for a cure have been working on treatments using antibodies from recovered coronavirus patients. And the Nevadan is not believed to be the first person to get sick a second time.

  • The U.S. economy is still struggling to recover from the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression. The good news? Stocks are setting records highs and benefiting the narrow majority of Americans who own them. Also, home sales are booming. But for a second week in a row new weekly jobless claims topped one million. Before the pandemic, the average number of claims was around 200,000 a week. The Conference Board, a business research group, reported this week that consumer confidence has tumbled to its lowest level since 2014. And although employers added nearly 9.3 million jobs in May, June and July, that’s still less than half of record 22 million jobs lost in March and April. Meanwhile, more than 27 million people are collecting unemployment.

  • North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis was called out by the Democrat hoping to unseat him in November, Cal Cunningham, for going maskless at the White House when Trump gave his big speech Thursday. Noting that Tillis has taken others to task for not wearing masks, Cunningham said "Tillis apparently sets a different standard for himself. He was captured maskless in Washington Thursday surrounded by nearly 1,000 other people, most of whom were also not wearing masks or social distancing, after posting a photo to Twitter wearing a mask." Tillis, who is in a tight re-election race, admitted that he “fell short of my own standard” in a statement to NBC News.
  • Michigan became the latest state to report its 100,000th confirmed coronavirus case. It now has 110,643 along with 6,706 deaths, NBC News figures show. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, took aggressive steps early on in to curb the spread, igniting protests by Trump-supporting, gun-toting demonstrators who barged into the Michigan state Capitol. “Since the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in March, the vast majority of Michiganders have done their part to protect themselves and their loved ones," Whitmer said. "And because we took some of the most aggressive actions against this virus in the nation, Michigan is faring far better than other states in terms of new cases and deaths, and our economy is moving closer to where it was in March. The same cannot be said for other states that closed down late and reopened early – states like Florida and Texas." Led by Republican governors loyal to Trump, Texas and Florida reopened in May — after less than two months in quarantine — just as the pandemic was taking hold in their states. Texas as of Friday had 624,513 confirmed cases and 12,439 deaths, while Florida had 615,806 confirmed cases and 11,099 deaths, NBC News numbers showed.