COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina decided to cancel an annual college rite, spring break, to avoid a potential COVID-19 outbreak from thousands of students returning to campus after traveling.
The week of days off, usually scheduled in March, will be sprinkled throughout the spring semester, the state's largest college announced Thursday in an email to parents and students at its main Columbia campus. USC is calling the days off "wellness days" with many scheduled midweek that will limit opportunities to travel.
"I certainly understand your disappointment with this announcement," USC Provost Bill Tate said in the email. "However, I, and the medical community, firmly believe it is the right thing to do in light of the unprecedented worldwide pandemic."
College of Charleston, South Carolina's third-largest school, canceled spring break as well.
Clemson University, second only to USC in enrollment in the state, still plans to have spring break despite having among the nation's highest number of COVID-19 cases on a college campus. Coastal Carolina University, the state's fourth largest college, has a spring break in April still listed on its academic calendar.
USC extended spring break last year as the state's largest colleges quickly switched all classes online when the pandemic began. The school estimated 30 percent of the campus could have been infected if students were allowed to return after traveling home and to vacation spots.
Losing spring break is just another adjustment students have needed to make amid the pandemic.
USC adopted a hybrid schedule in the fall and allowed students to return to campus. But before the semester began, the university decided to end in-person classes on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to stop the possibility of an outbreak from returning students.
Fall classes will resume virtually after Thanksgiving and final exams will be taken online.
Clemson University announced a similar plan Thursday. College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina also will go remote after Thanksgiving.
USC has not decided whether to hold commencement, planned for May 7-8, in person or virtually, school spokesman Jeff Stensland said.
USC's decision to call off spring break was not a complete surprise since the school did not include the prolonged vacation on the spring academic calendar. Spring holidays were listed with, "To Be Determined."
Spring break days off will now take place on Monday, Feb. 15; Thursday, Feb. 25; Friday, March 12; Tuesday, March 30; and Wednesday, April 21.
USC said at least eight other colleges in the Southeastern Conference have canceled spring breaks that public health officials fear could bring infected students back to campuses.
USC went through a near-national high spike in COVID-19 cases soon after students returned to campus in August.
Infections have decreased in the past few weeks despite rising community concerns about large crowds of students seen congregating at bars and huge parties at apartment complexes.
Columbia police and fire officials responded to a gathering of more than 2,000 at a housing complex near Williams Brice Stadium on Saturday during the Gamecocks' football game against Auburn University.