Colleges consider social restrictions this fall to reduce risk of coronavirus, but is that realistic?

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Many students will return to college campuses this fall, but universities are taking judicious steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Some schools plan to ban parties, require face masks, prohibit on-campus roommates, and establish family-sized clusters of students, who can only socialize with each other — not exactly the quintessential college experience, which is largely about independence and personal growth.

Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg said expecting students to play it safe when schools reopen is unrealistic.

“The peak age for risk-taking, in all countries, is between the ages of  20 and 24,” he said. “Well, that’s the population that colleges are hoping to persuade not to take risks.”

Many of the guidelines involve taking socialization out of what is normally a social experience.

“I’m just not so sure that we can expect that to be done to the extent that it would need to be done to make the program successful,” Steinberg added.

The stakes are high, which warranted the restrictions in the first place. If cases rise on campuses, colleges may once again be forced to close. 

Nearby Bryn Mawr College plans to hold in-person classes this fall. Thomas Jefferson University will resume on-campus classes and operations, and all students must complete an online orientation program beforehand. Penn State is requiring face masks and social distancing, and students are encouraged to avoid large gatherings.

If Haverford College exceeds its number of single-unit dorm rooms, some students who volunteer to live in doubles are asked to live as a “pod” and be responsible as such, “much like a family unit at home.” 

Steinberg said the constraints may be more successful at small colleges, as it would be hard to enforce with a huge student body. He expects students to follow the guidelines maybe for a few weeks.

“Then, they’re going to start to get either lazy or frustrated or just simply tired of it,” he said. “We’ll start to see them not wearing masks as often, not socially distancing, and engaging in activities with their dormmates and with students who might not live in the same dorm but who they socialize with — and I think you’re going to see a big increase in cases on campus.”