BYU begins fall semester with high hopes and expectations during COVID-19 06

Students walk to and from the Wilkinson Student Center on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo during the first day of the fall 2020 semester on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising daily the first week of school, BYU officials implored students to follow safety precautions heading into Labor Day Weekend. New numbers suggest many didn’t take that homework assignment to heart.

After last week’s return to instruction on campus, the total number of self-reported COVID-19 cases at BYU registered at 80. As of Wednesday, however, that number had almost doubled, rising to 146. If these numbers continue to take off, it wouldn’t be hard to see the potential impact not only on campus — where one concern is the amount of space available for students to quarantine — but the local economy as well.

While speaking some encouragement, last week’s statement also brought to light concerns over reports and videos from off-campus activities. BYU warned that behavior over Labor Day weekend could make or break the ability to have students on campus as well as in-person classes.

Referring to last week’s number of self-reported cases, the statement said, “Many of these have been tied to gatherings both on-campus and off-campus. We again encourage you to avoid non-compliant gatherings, wear masks and stay distanced.”

In addition to the self-reported numbers, two dozen students are currently being instructed to quarantine after they were exposed to COVID-19 at a gathering where social distancing was not followed.

The statement also mentioned that non-compliance issues will be addressed in areas near campus and the Dean of Students Office.

“Please compassionately encourage your friends and roommates to do the same,” the statement read. “We condemn any kind of shaming or bullying surrounding compliance or non-compliance. Let’s work through this together, with compassion. We can still maintain an on-campus experience, if we can all do our part.”

The university also addressed the question of a possible threshold of positive cases that would move classes to remote learning and send students home. The statement said there is no specific number but officials are taking into account a variety of factors.

One of those factors is the amount of space the university has to allow for those living on-campus who have tested positive for COVID-19 to quarantine.

According to BYU’s Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingshead, the university has room to accommodate more than 200 students in isolation.

With its total case count rising rapidly and off-campus parties still being held, one worry is that the case count could overwhelm the amount of space BYU has to isolate those students who test positive for COVID-19.

With the statement noting that the holiday weekend could make or break life on campus, the idea of students being sent home is a significant one to consider.

With 43,000 people in the campus community during the fall semester, those on-campus bring a sizable impact to the local economy in not only Provo but surrounding areas.

John Borget, the director of administrative services for the city of Provo, said that students being sent home could come with significant consequences.

“I think that conservatively speaking, we’re going to be down,” Borget said. “I worry that, particularly when the CARES Act funding is gone, we could likely have additional small businesses in Provo and our area close because they can’t sustain it. I can tell you that the economic impact would be significant.”

Borget used the economic impacts of students leaving in the spring, when campus shut down due to the pandemic, to show what could happen if students were to be sent home again in the fall.

His main focus was on restaurants, businesses, off-campus housing communities and some lost utilities revenue.

Restaurants and entertainment businesses in the area were hit the hardest at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic according to Borget.

“They rely on students and it still impacts them because even though we have students here you still don’t have the same level of soulful interaction we would see,” Borget said. “Some of the things they used to do all of the time, they don’t do anymore or they do less of it.”

The downtown area in Provo also thrived on campus life and students, both from BYU and Utah Valley University. They saw a big economic hit as well as off-campus housing surrounding the universities.

Landlords really struggled as a result of students being sent home and this could conceivably happen again.

Where the city of Provo saw the biggest hit was in its utilities department. With students leaving campus and many buildings on campus not in use, there was a significantly lower amount of electricity being used. That accounted for some decreases in revenue for the city.

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