Since March, UW and many other colleges and universities have been using remote learning, fearing instruction might risk students and the staff’s personal safety, and in an attempt to slow the spread of the infectious COVID-19.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, these measures proved at least partially successful.
But despite these efforts, the number of COVID-19 cases still increased in the following months, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But while the Trump administration claimed they would soon control these cases, the administration’s incompetence has put people’s lives at risk and caused case numbers to skyrocket.
July 6th, following Trump’s tweet calling for schools to reopen in the fall, U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement issued a directive, forbidding international students from remaining in the U.S. if their classes went completely online. MIT and Harvard launched a lawsuit against this order, and over 100 institutions supported them, including UW.
Prior to the lawsuit, UW announced they would hold all summer classes online. As such, the university has worked hard to keep students safe, and online classes have been working, meaning there is absolutely no need to hold in-person classes or reopen facilities or dorms.
Data collected by the New York Times also indicates no school in Wisconsin can handle a safe reopening. Reopening the campus and letting students move into dorms will only lead to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and students being sent home.
Despite the Smart Restart initiative taken by the university, UW cannot totally control students’ whereabouts outside of classes or dorms.
This provides the great possibility that students may get infected or spread the virus in both classrooms and public spaces such as buses, restaurants, bars, etc. In the dorms, how can one roommate know if the other roommate is infected or not? If one person in the dorm is infected, it is likely they will infect their roommate as well.
Also, the dorms have communal bathrooms and shower spaces, which means if one person in one dorm is infected, then they will likely infect others in the dorm. Given UW cannot guarantee dorms will be completely safe for students to live in, and therefore they cannot live up to their promise of keeping students safe on campus, UW should remain remote, at least for the fall semester.
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Badgers living off-campus is another story. It’s good the university stops them from dining in on-campus dining halls to limit the number of people in a closed space. But, students are still highly likely to catch the virus in public spaces or at parties, where the university cannot enforce safety protocols.
The Dean of Students Christina Olstad threatened disciplinary action for students breaking protocols off-campus in a recent email, but they cannot enforce these rules with thousands of students — UW does not have the means to track or surveil everyone.
Another issue with reopening the university is testing and tracking. Gov. Tony Evers has ordered more than 350,000 tests for the UW system. According to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, UW-Madison can provide more than 6,000 tests per week, but there are still about 40,000 undergraduate students in the university, and it takes time for students to get their results back.
If a student tests positive, by the time the student has the result, there is no way to comprehensively track how many people the student has contacted.
If students receive a positive result, UW will move them to live in a designated COVID-19 location. This raises additional questions. How will students acquire items they need for classes from their dorms? How can the university make sure whoever retrieves the items will be safe? What about roommates living together or students who are high-risk?
A reopening UW also puts faculty at risk. Scientific studies have found correlations between age and COVID susceptibility.
At UW, 93% of faculty members are above the age of 35. According to the Center for Disease Control, starting at the age of 30, people have twice the chance of hospitalization and four times the chance of dying, compared to 18-29 years olds. This means almost all faculty members who teach in-person classes or hold in-person office hours are much more likely to contract COVID and students are likely to spread the virus to them.
The university must remain remote if it wishes to protect both students and faculty members.
UW, just like other colleges, cannot reopen safely with in-person classes. The rush to reopen will harm its students and staff members.
Ken Wang ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.