OPINION | COVID-19 round two: In-person education on ropes

Gabe Darley, Views Editor

Gabe Darley

The spring 2021 semester has finally arrived. To the dismay of many, this academic term may look disturbingly similar to our last. Unsurprisingly, the advent of the new year did not erase the consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With New Orleans’ return to Phase One of reopening as of Jan. 8, a residual question remains: should Tulane University’s undergraduates attend in-person classes? Thinking more critically, should they even be in New Orleans?To answer this question, it is helpful to understand the details of New Orleans’ Modified Phase One. According to the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the restrictions were created with “State and Federal guidance, an internal City task force, external advisory groups, and robust data analysis” in mind. 

Although Tulane announced it will comply with all of the updated precautions the city recommended, some of the Phase One criteria stand out among the rest as procedures that the school and the student body will likely not follow. For example, very few classrooms so far have “open[ed] doors and windows to promote air flow” and it seems highly dubious that Tulane students will “not gather with anyone other than members of their immediate household.” Granted, the city designated most of these measures to businesses and not classrooms, but the virus might not make such a generous distinction when spreading person-to-person in recycled Gibson Hall air. 

If these are restrictions designed primarily for private businesses, it is reasonable then to compare Tulane’s policies to the most recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for colleges and universities. In the categorically organized General Settings, it is clearly defined that the “Lowest Risk” form of academic engagement would be “virtual-only learning options, activities, and events.” However obvious it might seem, this is a viable option that many universities opted for and one that Tulane students themselves have previously asked of the administration. 

Tulane, instead, chose to engage again in academic behaviors that fall under several other risk categories. Tulane’s hybrid learning model seems most closely aligned with the “Medium Risk” category, rivaling its lower-risk counterpart that would limit in-person learning to “courses and laboratory instruction that cannot be delivered remotely.”  To name a few others, Tulane has allowed dining indoors, freely sharing objects — paper, syllabi, tests — between faculty and students and regularly engaging in in-person learning, which the CDC has respectively designated as “Higher Risk” and “Highest Risk” 

Even the new pre-arrival testing requirement has questionable efficacy. According to CDC travel guidelines, travelers should complete a COVID-19 test one to three days before their trip. Tulane has only asked that those tests be completed within five to seven days of the student’s return to campus. This in itself is a ridiculous breach of caution and allows students plenty of time to contract the disease between their test date and travel date, all for the illusion of campus-wide safety. Ignoring this travel recommendation is in many ways an abuse of the New Orleans population — whose opinion holds no sway in whether or not Tulane students return at all — and leaves the city susceptible to an abundance of new cases, deaths, and prolonged difficulties.

It is undoubtedly true that the quality of online-only education is lesser than its in-person rival, and a switch to this system would be a logistical headache. Tulane’s motto, “Non sibi, sed suis,” however, asks the school to act not in its own interest but in the interest of its community. If the switch to online instruction spares the city countless case incidences, health resources and grief, it just might be worth it.

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