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Coronavirus will devastate universities

On August 24th, over 34,000 people will be starting the new academic year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  Most of the students will be coming to Blacksburg from out of town, with a plurality coming from areas hardest hit by coronavirus, like Northern Virginia and Richmond.  The idea of having tens of thousands of people travel from all over the world to learn, eat, and sleep near each other during a growing pandemic sounds crazy. Any epidemiologist would tell you, it is.

Virginia Tech has posted their plans for mitigating the risks of spreading the virus, however their testing and tracking programs are optional, even for the 9000 students living on campus.  Not that it matters; even the most thorough program put into place would be futile. It only takes a tiny percentage to ignore the guidelines and spread the virus to a significant portion of the student body and faculty.  Recently a few students returned early to the University of Washington, and now over 100 have tested positive.  No matter how dire the situation feels, there’s just no way all college students are going to stop congregating in dorm rooms, apartments, and bars.

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In March coronavirus infections started to increase dramatically, and students were told to not return from Spring break. All remaining classes were then taught online.  Infection numbers are higher now than they were in March, and getting worse. If coronavirus spreads quickly across campus, all students will be sent home and, at best, classes will be online only. But that’s only if there’s enough faculty members to teach those online classes. If a significant portion of the faculty is infected, the administration may have to face the nightmare scenario of canceling the entire semester.

I do hope Virginia Tech, and all other universities, change their plans to follow Harvard’s example of having all classes online for the entire year.

Steven Swenson 7/7/2020