Megan Zogby writes for the Martin Center about the uncertainty surrounding the fall term at colleges and universities.

Colleges across the country are preparing for potential spikes in coronavirus cases in the fall. As some students return to campus, schools are making plans to protect the health of students, faculty, and campus workers.

Universities want to shorten face-to-face exposure on campus during the fall and winter. By starting the semester early, as many colleges plan to do, they can send students home for an extended winter break by Thanksgiving. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Notre Dame, the University of South Carolina, University of California-San Diego, and the University of Texas-Austin, as well as North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will end their fall semesters early.

Certainty for the fall is not high, however. The New York Times argued that most people haven’t “met minimal criteria” for state lockdowns to end. If colleges aren’t careful, they could set up outbreaks on campus instead of providing a safe zone. If outbreaks happen, the end result may be another hasty switch to online classes, catching universities flat on their feet again.

Professors, just like students, are staring down uncertainty. The first day of fall semester is less than a month away, and many details about class instruction remain unknown. Students don’t know what to expect, and professors can’t plan how they’ll teach or research.

To stop outbreaks, many schools will enforce a mandatory mask rule for anyone on campus. NC State announced its policy that all students, faculty, staff, and visitors must cover their faces at all times when in “NC State buildings and in all university programs held in non-university buildings,” according to a university email. …

… This means that even when freshmen students are in dorms with roommates, they will be mandated to wear a mask.