But in practice, many undergraduates and some epidemiologists say, the policies have broken down, often in ways that may put students and college staff at risk. And that breakdown reflects the chaotic nature of this extraordinary semester, when schools are struggling to deliver both in-person and remote classes; to identify, isolate and treat coronavirus outbreaks; and to maintain safe behavior among sometimes unruly undergraduates.
At the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, with at least 1,889 virus cases since mid-August, and at the University of Notre Dame, with about 550 cases, students have reported their classmates for violating quarantine and wandering outside. At Iowa State University, which has reported more than 1,200 cases, a student who was waiting for his Covid-19 test results said he was sent back to his regular dorm room where he could have infected his roommate.
And at many campuses, students with confirmed or possible infections have flooded social media platforms to describe filthy rooms, meager food rations, lack of furniture, chaotic procedures and minimal monitoring from their universities.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brianna Hayes developed a fever after a week at school, went to campus health services and was immediately assigned to a quarantine dorm for students with virus risks. Two days later, the university informed Ms. Hayes, a first-year student from Wilmington, N.C., that she had tested positive and would need to move again, this time to a Covid-19 isolation dorm.
But there was no university staff in the dorm to help sick students, Ms. Hayes said, and no elevator. Feverish and exhausted from the virus, she made four trips up and down staircases to move her bedding and other belongings to her isolation room. During her week in isolation, she said, no one from the university came to check on her.