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University Of Minnesota Shifts To Next Phase In Reopening Plan, Giving Students More Freedom Of Movement

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- After a spike in COVID-19 cases at several colleges and universities in Minnesota through September, numbers are starting to trend in the right direction.

Some, like Winona State University, had to institute a two-week quarantine last month to slow the spread of the virus. Others are now rolling back restrictions.

As students crisscross campus or quietly study outside, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities had the look of a typical school day. But young Gophers like junior Isaac Xiong will tell you that it seemed very different. He said classes online makes the days seem longer and run together.

WCCO spoke Wednesday with Student Body President Amy Ma.

"All the things that you kind of look forward to, homecoming, events, are just gone," Ma said.

Such is college life during a pandemic. The changes can be frustrating, but don't carry the same worry as a COVID-19 outbreak.

"The last thing that I want to see is what we saw in Iowa and Wisconsin and Penn State, and so many large universities," Ma said.

Through Oct. 3, the university's Twin Cities campus tallied 537 positive cases. That's more than Winona State University, with 449 cases through Oct. 11, and Minnesota State University, Mankato, with 261 cases through Oct. 3.

However, it's a smaller percentage when measured against student enrollment. The U of M would have a 1.03% positivity rate relative to enrollment, whereas Winona State has a 5.9% positivity rate and MSU Mankato would have 1.8%.

New cases at the U's Twin Cities campus steadily increased through September, peaking at 120 cases reported on Sept. 26, then dropping to 77 new cases on Oct. 3. That drop is part of the reason why the university is rolling back some restrictions.

It's moving from step two into step three of its COVID-19 response plan, known as the Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan. That means students living in dormitories will be allowed to stay out until midnight instead of 9 p.m. They will also be allowed to have two guests in their room instead of just one.

Freshman Josh Zimmer is both happy and nervous about the changes.

"I think it's good for students to be able to see more people, good for our mental health to have more friends and open up," Zimmer said. "But also kind of a worry that people are gonna be less cautious now that they're rolling back restrictions."

It's why Ma says her classmates and university staff must continue be vigilant, such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

"We're continuing to push for greater accessibility for testing, especially as students might be traveling for Thanksgiving break and winter break," she said.

The U has answered, making it so every student has access to one COVID-19 saliva test through Dec. 31, with or without symptoms. Ma said currently students must show symptoms in order to get at Boynton Health on campus.

"I'm not planning to travel for Thanksgiving break, but I know if I was, especially seeing family members or other members I could infect, that would be a peace of mind for me to have that [saliva] test and send it in to get my results, potentially leaving or spreading the coronavirus," Ma said.

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