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Colleges rethink reopening: 'If these steps are not successful, we'll have to send students home'

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sshepard/iStockBy HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Back-to-school season is off to a challenging start.

As new cases of the coronavirus are reported at K-12 schools that have reopened, many others are facing the difficult decision of whether or not to return to in-person classes. At some of the nation’s top universities, administrators are also struggling to formulate a cohesive plan to keep students on campus and safe from the virus.

After reopening last week, the University of Notre Dame reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, saying they were linked to a campus party. The school announced new restrictions that would go into effect for the next two weeks, including remote instruction for undergrads, closed public spaces and requiring off campus students to remain off campus.

“If these steps are not successful, we’ll have to send students home as we did last spring,” announced Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the university.

The university’s decision comes as 1,800 high school students are currently quarantining in Cherokee County, Georgia following a return to in-person school on Aug. 3.

At the University of Texas Austin, where students moved in on Monday, sophomore Sophia Gurin is already worried that she will be sent home because of the virus.

“I have an in-person class, so I do have to go to class. I’m going to do my best and practice safety and wear my mask, wash my hands often, but I feel like … it’s spreading pretty fast,” said Gurin.

School administrators at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had to change their plans after just a week since students arrived back on campus. Most in-person instruction was cancelled Monday and the school is now encouraging students to leave campus.

“I think we’re going to wait it out and once they kick us out, we’ll go home. I think that’s our plan for now,” said freshman Fiona Kincaid.

Health officials are warning college students, many of whom are known to party, that large gatherings are not helpful.

“We can’t have these large parties because of the level of asymptomatic spread,” said Dr. Deborah Birx on Aug. 18 at a briefing in Jefferson City, Missouri.

At Ithaca College in New York, freshman Rita Aucker was notified in an email from her university president on Monday that school will be online this semester.

“And just for general public health and safety reasons, it makes sense for all of us to stay home,” Aucker told ABC News.

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