Colleges scrapping spring break amid pandemic travel concerns

ABC News Corona Virus Health and Science

One school said spring break would “increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

The University of Michigan became one of the latest schools to amend its calendar and scrap the traditional spring break. On Thursday, its Board of Regents approved updated academic calendars across its three campuses that eliminated the spring recess.

In a letter requesting changes to its academic calendar, University of Michigan, Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso said the move would “mitigate the possible risks associated with campus community members who may have traveled during the middle of the semester.” Officials for the main campus in Ann Arbor and the Flint campus also noted their revisions were due to “challenges posed by COVID-19.”

Michigan joins other Big Ten universities that have canceled spring break next semester, including University of Wisconsin, Madison; Purdue University; Ohio State University and University of Iowa.

Other schools that have taken a similar course include the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida, Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Kansas State University, the University of Kentucky, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and Carnegie Mellon University.

The calendar revisions come as schools across the country are grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks on campus as they attempt in-person instruction for the fall.

Like Michigan, Kentucky officials cited concerns about travel in its decision this week to eliminate spring break, noting that the “revised calendar creates a condensed semester in which students remain engaged in coursework on campus, rather than potentially traveling to other regions and returning to Lexington, which would increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

Last week, Kansas State Provost Chuck Taber also pointed to the need to reduce risks by “minimizing mass travel to and from K-State campuses” in its decision to adjust the school’s spring academic calendar.

A recent study on COVID-19 spread backs up those concerns. Looking at GPS smartphone data of more than 7 million U.S. college students, a June study by Ball State and Vanderbilt found that some spring breakers brought COVID-19 back to their campuses earlier this year.

For Baylor, “preventing COVID-19 outbreaks like we saw across the country last spring” was a priority, Provost Nancy Brickhouse said in a message to students this week on the school’s decision to not take spring break.

In place of a spring break, some schools, including Carnegie Mellon and Purdue, are adding several “break days” or “reading days” throughout the spring semester to give students and faculty a respite.

The spring calendar revisions follow a similar playbook for the fall, where many schools have condensed the semester — including canceling planned fall breaks — to limit the amount of time students would spend on campus during the pandemic.

In several cases, the days allotted for spring break have been tacked on to the winter recess. As medical experts anticipate a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19, delaying the start of the spring semester may pose another advantage. In a Sept. 10 letter to students, Carnegie Mellon Provost Jim Garrett said the school decided to delay the spring semester “to reduce the number of weeks we are in session during flu season,” since “the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue through the winter months.”

During a coronavirus briefing earlier this week, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said he supported UW-Madison’s decision to proactively cancel spring break now, noting the risks posed by students traveling to and from campus. He also brought up the potential timeline of a vaccine, which experts are anticipating the broader public likely would see pop up at pharmacies and in doctor’s offices closer to mid-year.

“In order for our country to vaccinate 300 million people, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Evers said. UW-Madison’s decision was a “wise step on their part.”

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