On Wednesday, Sept. 23, university administration notified the campus community via email of its plans to partially reopen campus in the spring semester. This comes following the Aug. 20 announcement that all undergraduate classes would be moved online for the fall semester and the Aug. 26 announcement that students living in University Housing must move out of their residence halls and apartments due to COVID-19.
These decisions were made following many clusters on campus. Chancellor Randy Woodson expressed his disappointment in a press conference, pointing the finger at certain groups of students on campus, specifically Greek life. Our question is: Did the administration not learn its lesson during the mess that was the fall semester? We feel the changes that will be implemented for the spring semester do not do enough to protect students or keep COVID-19 from spreading.
According to the email, these are the changes the University is making for the spring:
The spring semester will start and end as originally planned. The University will have spring break.
As much as we want spring break to happen, we are confident that having a spring break will only lead to a spike of cases on campus. With students travelling across the country for vacations, the virus will inevitably spread as students leave campus and come back. This decision directly contradicts administration’s decision to have the fall semester end before the Thanksgiving holiday to avoid having students travel, contract the virus and bring it back to campus.
On-campus housing will be open, with all rooms housing only one student and the entire system running at reduced capacity.
The decision to open and reduce the capacity of on-campus housing goes against what students were told in the fall semester. During Student Government’s live Q&A with Chancellor Woodson and other university administrators on Aug. 20, Woodson said on-campus housing accounted for only a small fraction of COVID-19 cases on campus, therefore, at the time, housing would remain open. If University Housing was not a significant contributor to spread, then why send students home? If it was a big enough contributor to send students home, why attempt to reopen housing? Furthermore, Greek Village residents were allowed to stay on campus, despite being the focal point for many of NC State’s on-campus clusters. These decisions seem contradictory.
There will be a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes for both graduate and undergraduate students. Students will have the option to work entirely remotely if they choose.
Offering in-person classes in the spring will likely worsen the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already stated that the virus is more likely to be spread in confined indoor spaces, making the decision to host in-person classes reckless. In addition, should COVID-19 cases rise again in the spring, this will create the same harmful circumstances for graduate students and other university faculty and staff, as in the fall semester. Students will also be returning to campus at the peak of flu season, contributing to the growing national fear of a “twindemic,” or a simultaneous COVID-19 outbreak and flu outbreak.
The University will have additional quarantine and isolation rooms available, a vaccination plan in the case of a COVID-19 vaccine and improvements made to the University’s testing and contact tracing capabilities.
The increase in quarantine and isolation spaces, testing, contact tracing and planning for vaccine distribution are all positive and should have been implemented in the fall semester prior to bringing students back to campus. Why we didn’t have these policies implemented at the beginning continues to astound us.
Regardless, the University cannot count on the release of a COVID-19 vaccine to be an immediate return to normal. Vaccinating everyone will naturally take some time, and the NC State community does not live in a bubble. It is only logical for NC State to continue implementing comprehensive COVID-19 policies, regardless of whether a vaccine is released during the spring or not.
NC State will more strictly and “aggressively” enforce punishments for violations of the community standards, both on and off campus and by students and employees.
While enforcing punishments for violations of community standards more “aggressively” may be good, it can also backfire. First, punishments for violations only occur once violations happen. We understand that the administration is hoping this aggressive approach will discourage violations, but violations are still going to happen, and punishments only happen after the spread has already occurred. Second, this approach may lead to less reporting of violations as students are worried about getting friends or peers reprimanded. Third, this approach may hinder contact tracing. Students are less likely to accurately report where they have been, for fear of being punished or having their friends be punished.
The administration anticipates a return of more employees to campus when and where safe.
Finally, the administration’s decision to bring back more employees will be more likely to cause COVID-19 spread, and the people who are likely to be brought back are more likely to fall into high-risk categories.
The university administration needs to recognize that, as students, we understand how other students think. The University should be including more student opinions in their decisions because a lot of these decisions could be improved if the administration would just talk to us. The administration’s decision to reopen campus in the spring semester, even with these precautions, is needlessly risking the safety of the University’s students, staff and faculty.
This unsigned editorial is the opinion of Technician’s editorial board and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.