Spring Break 2020 was a pivotal moment in higher education history. Upon learning about the rapidly spreading coronavirus, schools around the world shut down their campuses — many while students were still on spring break. College students abruptly went home and began navigating a world of remote learning.

A year later, schools still struggle to mitigate COVID-19 spread, and students are itching for the sunshine. As temperatures rise throughout the United States, what can you expect for Spring Break 2021?


Spring break canceled

The main approach that many universities have taken is simple: Spring Break 2021 is canceled. Some university officials chose to eliminate the vacation entirely to stop students from traveling during the annual academic respite. But spring break hotspots, like Miami Beach, are seeing a massive turnout of college spring breakers nonetheless.

With most of their classes over Zoom anyway, students complete coursework using their hotel’s WiFi and then heading out to the beach. While it’s easy to understand indulgent behavior after a very challenging year, reports suggest that students disregard COVID-19 safety precautions: skipping masks and overfilling hotel rooms. Public health officials warn against potential spikes on campus once students return.

Incentivized staycations

Some institutions are trying a different approach. Rather than canceling spring break, UC Davis is offering students money to stay in town for their spring break. Students are experiencing a challenging year, and a few days off from the stress of assignments and midterms are no doubt needed.

Leaving campus to vacation is the bigger concern, as increased travel coincides with increased virus spread. Awarding some extra cash to stay close to home not only boosts the local economy, but also incentivizes students to stay nearby while still getting some needed self-care.

Match your mask to your swimsuit

Whether your school is actually observing spring break or not, there are a couple of precautions students should take. If possible, get your flu vaccine, and if available, your COVID-19 vaccine. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Don’t share your drinks. Try to social distance. If you decide to travel and socialize, make sure to quarantine upon returning to campus to eliminate virus spread. If you’re feeling any symptoms at all, get tested.

Be creative with your spring break. Try camping instead of overfilling vacation rentals. Hit the beach but not the bar. There are plenty of creative ways to celebrate the season and keep campus safe.

Which schools are doing a great job of keeping COVID cases low and staying open? What’s their secret?

More stressful than final exams or roommate disagreements, the pandemic has upturned traditional college expectations. Institutions around the world transitioned to a remote-learning environment, and many saw enrollment suffer because of it. As the tides turned in 2021 with the vaccine rollout and holiday spikes ebbing, some schools are re-engaging with in-person teaching, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State University. But college towns worry about large student gatherings and shared residential spaces facilitating quickly-spreading clusters throughout the local community. But it’s not all doom and gloom; certain campuses are out-performing others to operate somewhat normally and maintain low COVID cases. What steps have they taken to keep their campuses safe?

Creating a Campus Task Force

One of the first key steps in managing the virus’s impact on campus was to develop a COVID task force. Wagner College in New York started early, developing its own Pandemic Response Team in January 2020. Leveraging medical and public health experts through the northeast, Wagner mandated weekly testing protocols and transparent reporting mechanisms. The task force was critical in the college’s success; rather than quickly reacting to concerns or overcorrecting, stakeholders throughout campus could collectively work through decisions and create a unified message. Rather than multiple departments sending separate emails, a singular COVID leadership team could develop a concise website and message.

Facilitating Surveillance Testing

Unlike its Ivy League peers up north, Duke University remained predominantly open throughout the pandemic. Administrators credit their innovative approach to COVID-19 testing and tracing. Students received testing schedules and their results via a unique smartphone app developed by the institution. Duke implemented “pooled testing,” a method by which multiple samples are diagnosed with one test; this allows more students to get tested with fewer resources. The catch? This method only works when positive cases in the community remain low. Duke also implemented extensive testing protocols for its athletes, and NCAA fans will watch a relatively normal season. The school’s contact tracing team was quick to respond to positive test results, interviewing individuals and immediately notifying those at risk of exposure.

Enforcing Relevant Consequences

Even with the implementation of testing protocols and quarantine rules, campus officials must be prepared for students to push back against COVID policy. Whether it’s COVID fatigue or a general disregard for the virus’s severity, students are unlikely to follow all the rules all the time. Some universities have pursued more severe consequences, suspending hundreds of students at once for attending parties. Others have overloaded conduct officers by sending countless students through a tedious conduct investigation. Schools that are successfully staying open are getting more creative with consequences. Baylor University in Texas is piloting weekly COVID testing for all members of the campus community, with a particularly harsh consequence for Gen-Zers who skip their test: students who miss three testing appointments lose their Wi-Fi access. But there are incentives as well, including raffle prizes and gift certificates for students who get tested.

Offering Teletherapy Options

Mental health providers have witnessed a rise in young adults struggling with anxiety and depression. Colleges, like Loyola University in Illinois and City University of New York (CUNY), are expanding counseling services by hiring more providers and purchasing technology to better facilitate teletherapy. University officials recognize that mental health creates significant barriers to academic success, and many students cannot afford private services. Investment in student outreach and counseling is a crucial step for campuses to endure and recover from the pandemic.