22 May 2020

Notes from a pandemic: Coming back out

Depiction of virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2
Back in March, a lot of people got very stressed going into social isolation, lockdown, stay at home, quarantine, whatever you want to call it.

Me? I was good. It’s being the prospect of coming out of isolation that is stressing me out. It’s not because I’ll have to be around people again. It’s that I am not at all convinced it’s being done safely.

As I mentioned, the University of Texas system has already decided all its campuses will have face-to-face instruction for fall.

Earlier this week, my institution had a video chat with the person in charge of “reopening” the university, and I learned that food services, the gym, and the libraries were going to open back up at the start of June.

I asked, “Given the increase in cases that other countries and states have seen after "reopening", as a medical professional, are you comfortable with reopening the campus? Is this a medically advisable course of action?”

I didn’t get an answer to that.

I did get an answer to “If it was not possible for people to be on campus safely through March-May, why is it possible now? What has changed from a public health perspective?” The answer was basically, “We know more now.” Personally, I’d be happier if that answer was, “We have a vaccine now,” but of course, we don’t, and won’t have anytime soon.

I personally will be teaching online in fall, so I am not so much worried for my own health as the safety of my colleagues and students.

My worries got even worse when I saw news last night about the University of Texas’s flagship campus at Austin. Despite having an almost empty campus, they’ve had eleven of their janitorial staff test positive for COVID-19.

(University spokesperson J.B.) Bird said that UT officials did not know exactly how the virus spread among its custodial staff members, but said they had been practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

I just don’t see anything that convinces me that universities – including mine – can realistically expect to keep people safe.

External links

Q&A with Dr. John Krouse, Dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine (Recorded from Facebook livestream)

Virus outbreak hits nearly empty University of Texas campus: What will happen this fall?

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