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Jason Kao / covid cases (USE ACTUAL wowow)

The U.S. and Ivy League schools were late to respond to COVID-19. Data shows international universities did better.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, university administrators and government officials across the world acted to curb the effects of the virus on student populations, evacuating thousands of students from campus and shifting to online courses in just a matter of weeks.

On March 10, seven days after the United States reported its first hundred cases, Harvard University, Cornell University, and Yale University became the first Ivies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak by announcing a mandatory move-out for students.

Columbia was the last Ivy to announce a mandatory move-out, five days after the first Ivies made the announcement.

In that five-day span, the number of national cases had almost quadrupled.

On average, the Ivy League universities took 8.375 days to respond after the first hundred reported cases in the nation.

This response rate was a few days slower than that of China, whose government mandated the closure of all schools five days after its first 100 cases. As the first country to grapple with the effects of the virus in late January, China had a significantly higher number of cases at the time of the government's response, with 2,877 reported cases in the nation.

The Ivies’ responses were far slower than that of South Korea, which began experiencing an outbreak in late February. The South Korean government closed schools across the country two days after the first 100 reported cases.

The number of national cases at the time of Columbia’s response matches that of Italy, which has faced significant criticism for its delays. Italy began experiencing an outbreak in early March.

Italy closed its schools when there were 3,858 cases, 11 days after the first hundred reported cases.

The United States began experiencing an outbreak in mid-March, long after effects had been seen in China, South Korea, and Italy. The lack of coordinated national response led to delays in school closures, discrepancies in state recommendations, and a lack of proactive efforts to inform university students of social distancing practices, according to experts.

The United States, with 555,313 cases at the time of publication, has surpassed the rest of the world.

The U.S. and Ivy League schools were late to respond to COVID-19. Data shows international universities did better.

April 13, 2020

Public health experts raised concerns over U.S. schools’ slow reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing a lack of national and international coordination, widespread lack of preparation for the evolving virus by U.S. institutions, and miscommunication between the government and universities.

Trends from Ivy League schools revealed no uniform response, which public health experts said mirrored that of universities across the nation as there is a lack of uniform national direction. In light of the pandemic, the Ivy League helped to shape conversations among higher education institutions and their response rates highlighted the national trend. According to the Chronicle, on average, U.S. universities closed on March 12, four days after the Ivy League school average.

80,000

total cases

60,000

20,000

40,000

First case in New York

March 1

March 8

5

March 10

 

The community

member tests negative for COVID-19.

Virtual classes through

March 27 are announced.

10

Classes

canceled

March 12

Virtual classes through the rest of

the semester are announced.

March 15

15

SPRING BREAK

20

March 20

In-person commencement ceremonies are postponed.

Spring break is extended.

25

Spring

break

extended

30

75,832 cases

80,000

total cases

20,000

40,000

60,000

March

1

First case in New York

March 8

5

Virtual classes

through March 27

are announced.

March 10

 

The community member tests negative for COVID-19.

10

March 12

Classes

canceled

Virtual classes through the rest of the semester are announced.

March 15

15

SPRING BREAK

20

March 20

In-person commencement ceremonies are postponed.

Spring break is extended.

25

Spring

break

extended

30

75,832 cases

On March 8, President Lee Bollinger announced Columbia would shift to remote learning and temporarily canceled classes prior to spring break after a Columbia affiliate came in contact with someone with COVID-19, the first suspected case across the Ivy League.

On March 8, President Lee Bollinger announced Columbia would shift to remote learning and temporarily canceled classes prior to spring break after a Columbia affiliate came in contact with someone with COVID-19, the first suspected case across the Ivy League.

Students were encouraged to leave campus but were able to stay on campus if needed. Days later, in light of the growing epidemic and the first known case in the Columbia community, the University announced a mandatory move out on March 15.

Students were encouraged to leave campus but were able to stay on campus if needed. Days later, in light of the growing epidemic and the first known case in the Columbia community, the University announced a mandatory move out on March 15.

Despite Columbia being the first Ivy League university to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by shifting to partial online instruction, it was the last to mandate students leave campus, when there were 3,499 cases nationally and 732 cases in New York. The University followed the guidance of public health experts and state officials.

Despite Columbia being the first Ivy League university to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by shifting to partial online instruction, it was the last to mandate students leave campus, when there were 3,499 cases nationally and 732 cases in New York. The University followed the guidance of public health experts and state officials.

Most Ivy League universities reported a positive case from a college affiliate around the second week of March, and thus reacted at a similar rate. Many Ivy League schools seemed to follow suit after Columbia’s initial response.

Suspected

case at

Columbia

Suspected

cases at

Princeton

Potential

exposure

at UPenn

Confirmed

case at

Dartmouth

Confirmed

cases

at Cornell

Suspected

cases at

Brown

Suspected

cases at

Harvard

Confirmed

case at Yale

March 8

20

12

16

Harvard, Yale,

and Cornell

announces

online classes

and student

move-out.

Dartmouth

and Brown announces online classes and student move-out.

Columbia

announces

online

classes.

Columbia

announces

student

move-out.

UPenn announces virtual classes and student move-out. Princeton announces student move-out.

Princeton

announces

online classes.

March 8

Columbia

announces

online classes.

Suspected

case at

Columbia

Princeton

announces

online classes.

Suspected

cases at

Brown

Harvard, Yale,

and Cornell

announces online

classes and

student move-out.

Suspected

cases at

Princeton

Suspected

cases at

Harvard

UPenn announces

virtual classes and student move-out.

Princeton announces

student move-out.

12

Dartmouth and Brown announces online classes and student move-out.

Potential

exposure

at UPenn

Confirmed

case at Yale

Columbia

announces

student

move-out.

Confirmed

case at

Dartmouth

16

Confirmed

cases

at Cornell

20

According to public health experts, U.S. school administrators were prompted to take action by suspected or confirmed cases within their respective communities rather than taking precautionary measures. Consequently, their actions lagged behind those taken by their counterparts in other countries that saw the impact of COVID-19 prior to the United States.

Across the Ivies, Spectator found that universities also responded to the first case in their state at differing rates, which experts said resulted from a lack of federal guidance on handling the virus. Meanwhile, China’s government ordered a complete shutdown of universities and schools, while South Korea’s government advised universities to postpone the start of the academic year at the beginning of February, weeks before K-12 schools were forced to postpone start dates.

Bernadette Boden-Albala, the dean of Public Health at the University of California, Irvine, attributed the U.S. and many U.S. universities’ delayed responses to misinformation and the evolving understanding health experts had on the virus.

“Early countrywide public health decisions were delayed, and there are consequences to those early delays,” Boden-Albala said.

The delay in U.S. response may also be the result of a lack of international communication and coordination, said School of International and Public Affairs professor Robert Jervis.

“There’s been no attempt from us to lead international coordination [in] any way,” Jervis said, citing the country’s decision to cancel flights from Europe without consulting the countries impacted by the travel ban before the announcement.

While other countries such as South Korea took after China as a model of combatting the virus through prevention, the United States mostly waited for the virus to escalate before taking reactionary measures due to the general misunderstanding of the scope of the virus, Boden-Albaba said. She noted that much of the U.S. public had seen China’s tactics as extreme.

“We were all surprised when China decided to lock down an entire province, it seemed almost inconceivable,” Jervis added.

New York, in particular, did not see a stay-at-home order until March 22, and Mayor Bill de Blasio did not order the city’s schools to close until March 23. Without clear instruction from the state or city, the University responded earlier on March 15 to move its students off-campus in accordance with separate public health expertise rather than government directives. According to the New York Times, in comparison to other states, New York faced delays due to confusing guidance and political infighting.

Boden-Albala said many U.S. universities failed to take proactive measures to better inform students, including campaigns on how to prepare for the virus through handwashing and transmission prevention.

“Universities should have taken action earlier to make sure students were more informed to decrease viral spread, focusing on influenza if nothing else because the same practices ... would stop transmission of [the] coronavirus,” she said.

While universities waited for public health officials to contact them to shut down, administrators took additional measures to ensure that students suspected to have been exposed to the virus self-quarantined and that events were canceled.

Columbia requested that students not gather in groups of 25 or more on March 5, but classes were still not canceled, leaving faculty members unsure of how to proceed.

For Columbia students, the messaging from administrators and the national statistics regarding the virus’s infection rate for young populations left students misinformed about preventative measures and the risks of the virus. Students associated self-quarantine and protective masks with racial bias rather than viewing them as necessary steps to lower the infection rate of the virus.

By the time the virus escalated, students at schools like the University of Pennsylvania still received inconsistent messaging, leading many to disregard recommended practices and proceed to travel to spring break destinations, which added to the COVID-19 transmission and death toll.

10,000

total cases

2,500

5,000

7,500

First case in Pennsylvania

March 1

5

On March 11, UPenn students were told they

must move out of housing by March 15.

SPRING BREAK

10

On March 12, administrators extended the move-out

deadline to March 17, sending mixed messaging to

students over the severity of the virus.

15

On March 16, in-person commencement was

moved online, but it was postponed the following day.

20

Spring

break

extended

25

30

4,997 cases

10,000

total cases

2,500

5,000

7,500

March

1

First case in Pennsylvania

5

On March 11, UPenn students were

told they must move out of housing

by March 15.

SPRING BREAK

10

On March 12, administrators

extended the move-out deadline

to March 17, sending mixed

messaging to students over the

severity of the virus.

15

On March 16, in-person

commencement was moved

online, but it was postponed

the following day.

20

Spring

break

extended

25

30

4,997 cases

Similar actions were taken at Columbia, Yale, Princeton University, and Dartmouth College. These universities originally only announced remote classes for a few weeks and later extended them to the entire semester in order to respond to the rapidly changing nature of the virus, as recommended by government officials. At the time of the initial announcement, students may not have understood the severity of the situation, but they understood days later when they were forced to evacuate. Meanwhile, according to experts, international data had already shown the significance of the virus’s infection rate.

Harvard and Cornell were the first Ivy League schools to announce a move to online instruction for the rest of the semester on March 10. Yale announced mandatory move-out on the same day.

10,000

7,500

total cases

2,500

5,000

First case in Massachusetts

March 1

5

March 10

Harvard announces virtual classes beginning March 23 through the rest of the semester. Undergraduates must move out of housing by March 15.

10

March 11

Two members of the Harvard

community are being tested for the virus.

March 13

The first case of COVID-19 in the Harvard community is reported.

15

SPRING BREAK

March 20

In-person commencement ceremonies are postponed.

20

March 24

University President Larry Bacow and his wife test positive for COVID-19.

25

March 31

As of this date, a total of 51

Harvard community members had tested positive for COVID-19.

30

6,620 cases

10,000

total cases

2,500

5,000

7,500

March

First case in Massachusetts

1

March 10

Harvard announces virtual classes

beginning March 23 through the rest

of the semester. Undergraduates must

move out of housing by March 15.

5

March 11

Two members of the Harvard

community are being tested

for the virus.

10

March 13

The first case of COVID-19 in

the Harvard community is reported.

15

SPRING BREAK

March 20

20

In-person commencement ceremonies are postponed.

March 24

University President Larry Bacow and his wife test positive for COVID-19.

25

March 31

As of this date, a total of 51

Harvard community members had tested positive for COVID-19.

30

6,620 cases

Cornell was the last Ivy to see positive cases within its community. It also set the latest mandatory move-out with a deadline of March 28.

80,000

total cases

20,000

40,000

60,000

March 1

First case in New York

5

March 10

 

Cornell annouces virtual classes beginning April 6 through the rest of the semester. Undergraduates must move out of housing by March 28.

10

March 13

Class are suspended for the next two weeks leading up to spring break.

15

March 19

The semester is extended by one week.

20

In-person commencement

ceremonies are postponed.

March 20

The first two cases of COVID-19 in the Cornell community are reported.

25

Classes

suspended

March 31

 

As of this date, a total of 11 Cornell community

members had tested positive for COVID-19.

30

75,832 cases

Spring break

80,000

total cases

20,000

40,000

60,000

March

1

First case in New York

5

March 10

 

Cornell annouces virtual classes beginning April 6 through the rest of

the semester. Undergraduates must move out of housing by March 28.

10

March 13

Class are suspended for the next two weeks leading up to spring break.

15

March 19

The semester is extended by one week.

20

March 20

In-person

commencement

ceremonies

are postponed.

The first two cases of COVID-19 in the Cornell community are reported.

25

Classes

suspended

March 31

 

A total of 11 Cornell community

members had tested positive

for COVID-19.

30

75,832 cases

Spring break

Dustin Duncan, a social and spatial epidemiologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, said he believes the University responded to the crisis in a clear and timely manner given the recommendations from public health officials and epidemiologists.

“I think that it is and remains to be a rapidly changing landscape of what to do,” Duncan said. “And then comparing COVID to other [societies] ... I think that the issue of the emerging effects of this disease is we’re learning about the disease as it’s happening.”

However, Arthur Reingold, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the messaging received from federal versus state agencies resulted in inconsistent conclusions.

“Different levels of government provid[ed] different messages. The federal government, the White House, providing one message, federal health authorities and state health authorities a different message,” Reingold said. “I think that’s probably the biggest problem is that the messaging is not being consistent and many people are uncertain or confused about exactly what the right response is.”

Bolden-Albala noted that Columbia, as well as the University of Washington and the University of California, Irvine, ultimately responded in a timely manner in accordance with federal mandates, citing the presence of well-established public health schools, which led to conversations between high-level administrators and experts on how to prepare and address the crisis.

Still, she said she found the federal response rate and conflicting information alarming, citing those among the reasons for the rapid spread across the United States.

“We need to all work together now to keep some semblance of calm as we deal with the current grim reality,” Bolden-Albala said.

Kelly Pu is a Graphics deputy editor at Spectator. She can be contacted at kelly.pu@columbiaspectator.com.

Jun Yi Zhang is a Graphics reporter at Spectator. She can be contacted at junyi.zhang@columbiaspectator.com.

Stephanie Lai is a News editor at Spectator. She can be contacted at stephanie.lai@columbiaspectator.com. Follow her on Twitter @stephaniealai.

Raeedah Wahid is the Graphics editor at Spectator. She can be contacted at raeedah.wahid@columbiaspectator.com. Follow her on Twitter @raeedahwahid.

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