Notre Dame suspends in-person classes after COVID-19 cases surge following off-campus parties

/ CBS News

The University of Notre Dame abruptly canceled all in-person classes on Tuesday evening and moved to fully online instruction for at least two weeks, the latest college to struggle with reopening their campus amid the highly-contagious pandemic.

On Monday, Notre Dame — one of the country's wealthiest and most prestigious religious colleges — reported 80 new confirmed coronavirus infections, bringing the school's total number of cases to 147 since the South Bend, Indiana, campus resumed in-person classes on August 3, according to the university's website. Monday's testing data indicate a 19.1% positivity rate, nearly four times the rate that the World Health Organization recommends for states to reopen.

University officials have pinned the surge of infections to an off-campus party, where students didn't wear masks and social distancing wasn't practiced. Per university policy, the hosts of the party may have "jeopardize[d] their ability to remain a part of the University community."

"The virus is a formidable foe," Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said in a statement. "For the past week, it has been winning. Let us as the Fighting Irish join together to contain it."

Notre Dame is among a handful of schools finding it difficult to contain the virus while conducting in-person learning. Hundreds of institutions, including Smith College and the entire California State University system, have scrapped in-person learning plans as coronavirus hotspots have emerged across the country. Others, like Brown University and the University of Maryland,  have pushed back start dates. After only being on campus a week, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill abruptly abandoned in-person classes on Monday, moving all of its undergraduate classes online after 130 students tested positive for the coronavirus in the last week.

 As of August 14, nearly a quarter of colleges and universities were conducting their fall semester either primarily or entirely in-person, and 32% of schools were primarily or entirely online, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education

At Notre Dame, cases could be even higher than what the university has reported. Students told CBS South Bend affiliate WSBT-TV that the school's COVID-19 testing program has fallen short of promises made earlier in the summer. 

For now, Notre Dame plans to keep its campus open even as cases rise and students voice concern.

"It should be remote at this point," Duncan Donahue, a junior, told WSBT-TV. "I think we've had a week of exponential growth in terms of cases on campus, and with the lack of testing, I don't personally have faith that the university has it under control."