Swiss authorities ordered 2,500 students at an elite hospitality management school to quarantine themselves due to a coronavirus outbreak allegedly linked to off-campus partying, the latest back-to-school sign of higher education’s place in the pandemic.
Authorities in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, said all undergraduates at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, or the Lausanne Hospitality Management University in English, were told to quarantine at home both on and off campus because the virus already had spread too widely for a more limited order.
“Significant outbreaks of infection have appeared at several levels of training, making impossible a more targeted closure than that involving 2,500 students,” the Vaud regional office said in a statement. “Until Sept. 28, the students must stay home.”
The statement said an early investigation indicated that “one or more parties was at the origin of these many outbreaks.” The local authorities reiterated a call for party-goers to demonstrate a ”responsible attitude” by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, tracing their contacts and watching for COVID-19 symptoms.
Ines Blal, the university’s executive dean, said administrators had warned students against holding start-of-term parties, even ff-campus and outside the school’s authority — and said a “disciplinary investigation” was underway. She said the school had already been bracing for “worst-case scenarios” in recent months by putting courses online and rolling out distance-learning programs.
University spokesman Sherif Mamdouh said 11 students had tested positive for the coronavirus in connection with the outbreak so far and none required hospitalization. Mamdouh said only 67 of the undergraduates affected by the quarantine live on campus, while all the rest live off-campus.
The university, which has been heralded as one of the world’s top schools in the field, has a total student body of about 3,500, including people pursuing advanced degrees.
Mamdouh said the quarantine runs only through Monday because Swiss authorities factored in a possible 14-day virus incubation period since this month’s start-of-term parties.
He could not explain why faculty members or graduate students were not included in the quarantine order, but said it was a decision made by the cantonal authorities. They were not immediately available for comment.
Switzerland is not alone in facing a back-to-school virus surge among students. The World Health Organization, national health authorities and others have cautioned that young people have been a key driver for the continued spread of the coronavirus in several countries in recent weeks.
The University of Glasgow in Scotland said Thursday that over 600 of its students had to self-isolate after 124 reported cases emerged in “two significant clusters” at separate residence halls.
The university said it believed the outbreak was largely a result of social activity in mid-September during “Freshers’ Week,” when new students arrive and socialize.
The university said none of its infected students had to receive hospital treatment. It stressed that anyone who breaks coronavirus restrictions could be kicked out of student housing or suspended.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that the outbreak was worrying, saying: “The more young people get it the more they spread it to old people.”
The latest government figures in France show that 22% of the country’s currently active virus clusters emerged at schools and universities. The United States has also seen clusters linked to college students. Denmark’s education minister has urged parents and schools to cancel all social events, including camps and birthday parties.
World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that while it is “unfair to just put it on the young people,” it’s also unsurprising that teenagers and young adults might assume they don’t need to worry about succumbing to the virus.
“Perceptions do indicate that they don’t feel they are as at-risk as older groups” Harris said, particularly in the wake of data showing younger people typically have less-severe cases of COVID-19.
“The message they have heard is: ‘You are out of jail, go out and play,’” she said. “We don’t want to be the fun police, but we want people to have fun safely.”