Palm Beach Atlantic University one of few college campuses fully opened during pandemic

4% of U.S. colleges operating fully in person
Posted at 12:45 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 14:09:07-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — One year into the COVID-19 pandemic and many college campuses across the country are operating classes virtually. In the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, a small university is taking a different approach.

"We get to know one another relatively quick, and we become a family," William Lewis said.


Palm Beach Atlantic University is home to 3,000 students and faculty. Nursing student William Lewis said his junior year is looking a lot different than he imagined.

"I get here, I put my mask on in the parking lot. That’s one of the first things that I do because you have to wear a mask on campus," Lewis said. "Walk into campus and then I go in the classroom where we have partitions up in between students, social distanced."

Out of nearly 3,000 colleges across the country, 4 percent are operating fully in person. PBA is one of those campuses.

Palm Beach Atlantic University President Dr. Debra Schwinn
Palm Beach Atlantic University President Dr. Debra Schwinn said on average there are between five to 15 new COVID-19 cases a week, but zero transmissions from students to faculty.

"There's emerging data now, that just doing education online at home is missing that transformative piece in many cases," Dr. Debra Schwinn, president of Palm Beach Atlantic University.

She started the job in April at the beginning of the pandemic.

"The pandemic, we didn’t know it was going to last a whole year at that point or maybe longer," she said. "But it's always an opportunity when you have a stress like that to look at not just the cracks in the systems, but the absolute strengths. So, I viewed it more as an opportunity than anything else."

Schwinn said the opening of Watson Hall allowed them to convert two other living spaces into quarantine dorms.

"We have a team of nurses that are health alert nurses that immediately will send a text to them that say stay at home, then give them a call and do contact tracing," she said.

She said while a student is quarantined on-campus meals are delivered, and they are put in a buddy system of sorts.

Schwinn, who has worked as a scientist and physician, spends 30 minutes each night hosting a Zoom session with students in quarantine.

"What we do is, I actually introduce students to each other," she said.

She said on average there are between five to 15 new COVID-19 cases a week. However, she said so far there have been zero transmission from students to faculty.

"It’s a system that's working," Schwinn said.