We are having some landscaping done in our neighborhood this week and, in the process of re-grading a hill, the landscapers cut our internet line. So, for the first time in more than 3 months, I had to come into my office to get some things done. It’s about 80 degrees in the building and I’m only intending to stay as long as I need to get access to some files, but my travels through town have evoked some deep fears about returning to in-person teaching in the fall.
Much like other universities, my university has been having a series of conversations about how to keep people safe on campus. We’ve been given face shields and masks. We’ve got instructions to social distance and plans to teach using a hybrid approach – in person and online. We’ve been told that students will be required to wear face masks on campus and in the classroom.
It all sounds very rational except for one momentous failing.
My university is nestled right in the middle of a college town. We’re surrounded by restaurants and bars. In driving to my office this afternoon, I drove through the middle of downtown and collected some data. Only 18.2% of the people I observed (n=66) had their faces covered. I noticed people sitting in close proximity in bars, people exchanging hugs, and people sharing drinks.
Our plans to reopen the university safely are destined to fail because our governor has not shown the leadership to make face masks required and our community does not seem to be our partner in keeping our students safe. I would think the community would have a bigger interest in this given that the economic health of the town is linked to the economic health of the university. We are already hurting economically and my institution has already laid people off and are decreasing salaries. How does our community not see the consequences of not containing this virus?
The ostrich strategy is not really an effective infection control strategy.
It makes me think that it may not matter what we do and any measures I take to keep my learning community safe are surely in vain.