Pandemic blog 28: Smart Restart

What’s going to happen to school in the fall? Madison schools are talking about having two days on, three days off, with half the kids going on Monday and Tuesday and half on Thursday and Friday.

I think if we open anything it has to be schools. And it seems pretty clear we are not not opening anything. If there’s no school, how are people with young kids supposed to work?

There’s decent evidence that young kids are less likely to get infected with COVID, less likely to spread it, and drastically less likely to become seriously ill from it — so I don’t think it’s crazy to hope that you can bring kids together in school without taking too much of a hit to public health.

What about college? UW-Madison is proposing a “Smart Restart” plan in which students come back to dorms, on-campus instruction starts in a limited fashion (big classes online, small classes taught in big rooms with students sitting far apart.) A lot of my colleagues are really unhappy with the fact that we’re proposing to bring students back to campus at all. I’m cautiously for it. I am not going to get into the details because more detail-oriented people than me have thought about them a lot, and I’m just sitting here blogging on Independence Morning.

But three non-details:

  1. Given the high case numbers among college students in Madison now, just from normal college student socializing, it’s not clear to me that asking them to come to class is going to make a notable difference in how much COVID spread the student population generates.
  2. Any plan that says “Protect the most vulnerable populations, like old people, but let young healthy people do what they want” that doesn’t include “vulnerable people who can’t safely do their jobs because their workplaces are full of young, healthy, teeming-with-COVID people get paid to stay home” is not a plan. We can’t make 65-year-old teachers teach in person and we can’t make diabetic teachers teach in person and we can’t make teachers with elderly relatives in the household teach in person.
  3. Any plan for re-opening schools has to have pretty clear guidelines for what triggers a reverse of course. We cannot figure out what’s safe, or “safe enough,” by pure thought; at some point we have to try things. But a re-opening plan that doesn’t include a re-closing plan is also not a plan.

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3 thoughts on “Pandemic blog 28: Smart Restart

  1. voloch says:

    Are *YOU* teaching in person in the Fall? Have you been given the option? How about TAs and non-tenure track faculty, have they been given an option (other than losing their job)? In my view, the univ administration will be committing murder if some faculty member dies as a result of reopening. I know if I was still at UT, I would refuse to teach in person in the Fall.

  2. Richard Séguin says:

    According to this NBC story, the Trump administration has just complicated planning for this fall at colleges:

    “The government announced Monday that international students will not be allowed to stay in the country if the institution in which they’re enrolled is holding online-only courses this fall, and those failing to comply with the rules will risk deportation.”

    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/ice-tells-foreign-students-leave-u-s-if-their-school-n1233026

    They just couldn’t help themselves.

  3. Nadia says:

    Some European countries have been able to reopen schools without a huge hit to public health.

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