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George Mason University welcomes students back to campus as other big schools close

The university president warned that student parties could force GMU to follow the lead of schools like UNC and go back to 100% virtual learning.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Even as college students head back to campus, COVID-19 outbreaks have forced several major universities to switch course and move entirely online. University leaders have blamed the reversal on parties and students' failure to social distance. 

George Mason school officials are hoping students heed their warnings. As freshmen move into their new dorms, GMU President Gregory Washington has a message to students: It's up to them to prevent the sprawling suburban campus from ending up like the University of North Carolina, who had to switch suddenly back to virtual learning. 

The plan at Mason is for thousands of students to live in dorms and to attempt some in-person classes. Students had to make an appointment to move in, registration was conducted with a plexiglass screen barrier, and everyone is required to wear a mask in all public places.

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"I'm super excited to be back on campus," junior Dennis Potts said. "It's a beautiful day out. I'm really ready." 

A school-produced video advises students that they're expected to follow a series of common sense rules, which include completing a daily health check.

Potts said he'll be taking all his classes online -- maybe from his dorm room --but he's still happy to be out of his house. 

"I'm just over the moon about it," he said.

The school president told students they're allowed to socialize with classmates, but only in very small groups.

RELATED: UMD to delay start of in person instruction until September 14

Returning to campus is a big social experiment, and several other colleges have already found their advice has been ignored by young people who just can't wait to party.

The World Health Organization said there has been a 20% spike in coronavirus cases among young people since the end of July. Some experts fear we'll see another spike over the next few weeks as more schools and colleges reopen for in-person classes.

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