S.D. college students flocked to parties, bars. Now, hundreds have COVID-19.

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S.D. college students flocked to parties, bars. Now, hundreds have COVID-19.  Sioux Falls Argus Leader
S.D. college students flocked to parties, bars. Now, hundreds have COVID-19.

As thousands of students returned to South Dakota campuses last week, officials did everything they could to help mitigate and control the spread of COVID-19 in their buildings.

They had plans for getting students safely back to learning on campus: Required masks, limited visitors, on-site rapid testing, final exams offered online and outdoor activities organized to create some sort of college life atmosphere.

But fewer than two weeks into the academic year, those plans are unraveling for the state's public universities as students flock to off-campus parties, bars and restaurants.

Active positive COVID-19 cases have already climbed to nearly 300 between universities' students, faculty and staff, and hundreds more are in quarantine or isolation either in school-sanctioned COVID-19 quarters or at home.

University officials are already having discussions about what to do in the event of a surge in cases or if and when a campus becomes a hot spot for the disease. They're trying to figure out how to protect students and staff and still continue learning, said Brian Maher, the South Dakota Board of Regents executive director.

He spoke with all six campus presidents Tuesday morning to gauge how they were doing so far.

The conversations are serious and timely, he said.

"There was an optimistic tone, but also it's laced with fear," Maher said. "The fear is the fear of the unknown, and we have active COVID cases on our campuses."

And little can be done to curtail the desire students have to socialize, especially if it's happening off campus, college officials said.

Campus COVID-19 cases rising

In-person classes started Aug. 19, but at least two colleges, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University, are already starting to see a surge.

At SDSU, 68 students were reportedly infected with active cases of COVID-19, while 223 students, faculty and staff were in isolation…
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