Myra Ross: Campuses court COVID-19 surge if they insist on reopening

  • UMass campus June 30, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/13/2020 12:53:27 PM
Campuses court COVID-19 surge if they insist on reopening 

Our local colleges and UMass invite a surge of COVID-19 if they persist with their plans to open their campuses next month. Some of the thousands of out-of-state students will come from places with much higher infection rates than ours. Testing will not keep all of the virus out. Once it emerges on campuses, it will spread throughout the community.

 

I fear that the colleges will open anyway. It is in great part a matter of economics for them. Liberal arts colleges house virtually all of their students on campus. Presumably, they will implement policies that will frame the new normal and enforce them to try to avoid another closure. Nevertheless, students will be in close proximity, sharing bathrooms, dining facilities, laboratories … They will not always wear masks or distance socially.

I am not reassured. Under the current plan, UMass students will not be required to return to campus, but those who choose to come to campus will be expected to follow guidelines curtailing their activities and social interactions. Hopefully, the great majority of students will not return under these conditions. What about the thousands of students who live in apartments in Amherst and surrounding towns? They evoke serious concerns. They have leases. They want to see friends. The UMass guidelines will not be enforceable off campus.

In my neighborhood, some students who have remained here throughout the crisis have hosted large, unmasked gatherings. Even if only a small percentage of the thousands of students who return act similarly, the virus will appear and spread — in supermarkets and big box stores, on public buses, in salons and barber shops. To maintain our low incidence of COVID-19, our local governments must prevail upon the colleges not to invite students to campus this fall. Some will come regardless. We need local bylaws requiring masks in public places and restrictions on private gatherings — enforceable with stiff fines. These dangerous times call for drastic measures.

Myra Ross

Amherst




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