Forcing an in-person semester risks student health

On March 13, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3,528 COVID-19 cases in the United States. That day, former President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency. The U.S. went into lockdown, leading millions to switch to remote work and school. Universities shut down and sent students home.

With the pandemic raging, we accepted the inevitable lockdown and many concluded schools should not be reopened until a vaccine is available.

Flash forward six months, or to many what felt like five years, schools and businesses began reopening. According to the CDC, approximately 56 million school-aged children — ages 5-17 years old — resumed education in the U.S. in fall 2020.

Schools and universities quickly implemented COVID-19 safety measures to get students back in person as soon as possible. These new measures included mandating mask-wearing and social distancing. 

While I admire the efforts made by officials to keep school safe, these precautions are not enough. Schools should not be reopened until there is a vaccine that can be given to students and faculty.

Currently, the CDC reports the U.S. has suffered from 24.3 million cases of COVID-19, with 402,000 of those being fatal. These statistics show this virus is widespread, very contagious and can lead to very gloomy endings if the appropriate precautions are not taken. In-person interaction will continue to worsen the problem. With the recent spike in cases, it is very rational to assume that in-person instruction is a dangerous gamble.

Researchers working with The New York Times are tracking the pandemic on college campuses as new cases continue to emerge daily. According to the data, there has been a recording of COVID-19 cases at over 1,800 colleges, resulting in over 397,000 cases since school returned in the fall of last year. 

The numbers show the preventative measures created to make schools safe again are failing, and resulting in hundreds of thousands of additional cases. The cases are not only rising within the NAU campus, but within the community as well.  Allowing colleges to reopen also created a massive threat to those working and residing in college towns. 

While initial reports declared young people were predominately safe from contracting COVID-19, the country soon realized the rate of transmission among teens and young adults is high and consistently increasing. 

An article published in The New York Times cites that since the end of August 2020, COVID-19 deaths have doubled in counties with a large college population. According to The New York Times’ tracking data, there have been 90 deaths involving college employees and students. That is almost 100 people whose lives could have been saved if colleges delayed the return to campus. 

College reopenings not only pose a risk for students and faculty, but for the community as a whole. Health officials now fear that young adults with limited symptoms are unknowingly transmitting the virus to those around them. While it is not your fault if you are unaware and asymptomatic, the disease could easily spread to someone more vulnerable.

The world as we know it will forever be changed by this pandemic. Instead of immediately trying to get back to normal, we should be trying to adjust to the new normal. 

The pandemic is not over because you are tired of daily walks in quarantine. It is not over because officials in your state have allowed you to return to school. We cannot minimize the effect this pandemic has had on the country. Premature school reopenings will likely spiral to more lockdowns, more cases and ultimately, more fatalities.

Schools and universities should not be reopened until there is a nationwide, free vaccine to be administered to all. It is not smart for us, our staff or community to allow students to travel back to school and continue to attend classes. There will be severe repercussions as the numbers keep rising and more lives are lost.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in great fear, isolation and tragedy. While the country’s reopening is a main goal for many officials, there should be consideration for the fact that the pandemic is still happening. Public health and safety is still a concern. 

If students were sent home with just 3,528 active cases nationwide, it is unjust for schools and universities to reopen while there are over 24.3 million cases. These irresponsible actions will result in further catastrophe.