Growing cases of COVID-19 have prompted some colleges to start the semester online and delay students returning to campus. Other colleges started the semester in person and then moved on to distance education. Still others are staying the course, staying in physical classrooms despite concerns from some students and faculty as coronavirus cases escalate.
Across the country, COVID-19 college dashboards show a dramatic increase in the number of cases, likely spurred by the highly transmissible variant Omicron. The University of Georgia registered 804 cases even before spring school officially started. Arizona State University has 1,779 infected students and another 254 cases among faculty and staff. As of January 11, the University of Texas at Austin had listed 1,017 active cases, or about a seventh of the total number recorded since March 2020.
In some institutions, in-person classes are advancing, even as boards of directors are limiting mitigation measures that can slow the spread of the coronavirus. For example, the University of Missouri welcomed students to campus for the spring semester with no COVID-19 vaccine requirement – which many colleges have – or mask warrant.
The University of Missouri board of trustees reduced vaccine requirements last year. A mask mandate established earlier in the pandemic expired in fall 2021, and the board voted this week to deny a temporary mask mandate that University of Missouri system chairman Mun Choi, asked during a presentation Tuesday.
“The emphasis for us has always been on the safety of our community, our students, faculty and staff, as well as members of our community,” Choi said, noting the disruption in the workforce. system labor caused by the increase in coronavirus cases.
Advance without masks
According to figures updated Tuesday, the flagship campus of the University of Missouri at Columbia has 212 student cases of COVID-19.
University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi said via email that while vaccines and masks are not mandatory, “we continue to encourage everyone on campus to mask themselves near others. or inside and to be vaccinated as well as a booster “.
Choi also mentioned the availability of vaccination clinics in his message to the board.
Experts note the effectiveness of vaccines and masks in preventing or slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
“Vaccines and boosters are essential in fighting the spread of COVID,” wrote Gerri Taylor, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 working group, in an email.
Well-fitting, high-quality, properly worn masks are another useful measure, she said.
Instead, warrantless colleges should encourage students to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible, and to wear masks, she said. The greatest concerns are “for our high-risk students, faculty and staff (themselves or with their families) with chronic or immunocompromised health conditions, as well as those who are not immune or not strengthened. who can transmit COVID to those on campus, she noted.
Additional mitigation strategies include “campus de-densification, physical distancing, hand washing, elimination of activities involving large crowds” as well as public health messages with rewards and recognition for students who “Doing the right thing” regarding campus protocols.
Rejection of in-person classes
The University of Oregon, which also opened physical classrooms to students at the start of the winter term, now faces a formal labor complaint as COVID-19 cases increase on campus . The university reported 982 active cases of COVID-19 last week as classes resumed.
The complaint, filed by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation with the Oregon State Employment Relations Board, states that the requirement to teach in person amounts to a change in teaching conditions, which must be negotiated.
GTFF filed the complaint in response to COVID-19-related policies that require instructors, including graduate scholars, to meet two conditions in order to move courses online. The first is support from deans or department heads to move to online courses, and the second is that classes must have COVID-19-related student absences of 20% or more. Instructors who teach in person should also record lessons for absent students.
“As the sole legal representative of our bargaining unit, the University of Oregon is required by law to consult with GTFF if any changes are made to our working conditions,” wrote Mel Keller, union president, in an email. “The way the provost’s policy is written places particular pressure on instructors to record lectures and lectures, and does not provide enough detail to [graduate employees] and faculty regarding possible exemptions and additional requirements.
Keller added that “if we had been able to meet with the University as part of a formal negotiation process, we could have addressed some of these concerns up front” rather than filing a complaint.
While the complaint is “directed specifically against the University’s lack of engagement in the negotiation process,” Keller said, GTFF believes Oregon creates a dangerous environment for instructors and students given the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases.
In the end, she said, the university would have been better off starting the semester online.
Molly Blancett, a spokesperson for the university, said by email, “Throughout the pandemic, the University of Oregon has followed public health guidelines from the CDC, Oregon Health Authority. , Oregon OSHA, and Lane County Public Health. The provost sent a message on Jan.6 outlining the university’s plans to maintain academic continuity for the winter term.
Blancett also confirmed that the university is reviewing the complaint filed by GTFF.
Dartmouth College has also seen a peak of coronavirus on campus as it resumes in-person classes, reporting 763 cases among students, faculty and staff in the past seven days. The college even offered refunds to students if they wanted to withdraw from classes due to concerns about COVID-19, a deal that was available for the first week of classes.
But even as cases increase, Dartmouth shows no sign of a pivot to distance learning.
In an email to the campus community on Wednesday, college officials cited ongoing mitigation measures such as vaccine and mask requirements as well as “social distancing, ongoing surveillance testing. , [and] isolation for people who test positive for the virus. “
The email, written by Acting Marshal David Kotz and Executive Vice President Richard Mills, noted that the Dartmouth community has overwhelmingly complied with COVID-19 protocols. He also mentions the likely passage of the coronavirus from a pandemic to a less severe endemic stage and addresses another concern for officials: the growing mental health issues linked to COVID-19.
“Young people are most intensely affected by the isolation, anxiety and grief associated with the pandemic,” Kotz and Mills wrote. “Our decision to prioritize in-person classes, academic events, gym access and restricted but congregated meals is directly tied to the imperative to safeguard the mental and physical health of our students.”