College re-openings are risky

With the fall semester looming, colleges and universities are split on resuming in-person instruction (“How Colleges Can Keep the Coronavirus Off Campus,” The New York Times, June 1).  I understand their predicament.  They want to protect the health of students while at the same time not deprive them of a traditional education.

The problem is that no matter what steps officials take, they are fighting against what young people do naturally.  I’m talking about congregating in close quarters.  We already see evidence of that now that the lockdown has been lifted.  Young people violate social distancing at bars and at beaches very often without wearing face coverings.

Schools can require students to sign a contract promising to adhere to stipulated rules.  But in the final analysis, such efforts will be in vain.  That is particularly the case at residential colleges and universities because students are always in close proximity to each other.  If schools are really committed to the health of their students, they should rely exclusively on distance learning until a vaccine is available.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “College re-openings are risky”

  1. What’s missing — at least in the public discussions re these issues — is good data re how dangerous covid-19 is to the different involved sub-groups.

    There are some limited studies that suggest the number of covid-19 infections is 50x to 80x the reported number. If that is true, then the hospitalization and death rates for covid-19 are comparable to those for the flu.

    Then, there is the related important issue of death rates for sub-groups — i.e., healthy young adults, healthy middle-aged adults, healthy senior citizens, and not healthy adults. Looks like the death rates for the first two are very low, for the third group pretty high, and for the fourth group very high. For the healthy seniors and the not healthy adults, the covid-19 death rate looks worse than the flu.

    If all this is correct — a huge if — it seems that colleges should pretty much return to pre-covid-19 practices but with segregation of the senior citizens and not-healthy adults. Perhaps have profs who fall in these categories teach on-line rather than in-person.

    Yes — that approach would probably result in a large increase in covid-19 cases but only a very small increase in covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths. The main problems with that approach would be the impact on senior citizens and not-healthy adults in the students’ families when the students return home for breaks + the impact on those at-risk groups in the non-student populations in the college communities. However, keeping students at home for on-line instruction would likewise expose the students’ families to additional covid-19 risks (those college students are NOT going to sit in the basement by themselves on Friday and Saturday nights) and would seriously damage the economy in the college communities.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Although it’s true that the coronavirus affects age groups differently, I still think that residential colleges in particular will make the distinction irrelevant. When young people live in such close quarters, even the healthiest are put at risk. College students are known for thinking they are invincible.

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