Reopening university campuses
In-person classes are returning to nearly every university in the United States after more than a year of crisis and chaos — and at a particularly fraught moment. The highly contagious Delta strain is pushing cases into the air, while the polarized debate over vaccines and masks complicates campus discussions about virus safety.
The American College Health Association has recommended vaccination requirements for all higher education students on campus for the fall semester. And the CDC has recommended face coverings, regardless of vaccine status, for indoor public areas in areas where the infection rate is high.
But it hasn’t turned out that way on more than a few campuses, reports my higher education colleague Anemona Hartocollis.
Matthew Boedy, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition, made a raw emotional appeal to his students at the University of North Georgia just before classes began: He would teach in the equivalent of full body armor — vaccinated and masked.
So he was stunned in late August when more than two-thirds of the freshmen in his writing class didn’t get the hint and turned up unmasked. It was impossible to tell who had been vaccinated and who had not, resulting in what he called “an emotional hellscape.”
On some campuses, particularly Republican-led states with high rates of infection — such as the state systems in Georgia, Texas and Florida — vaccination is optional and mask wearing, while recommended, cannot be enforced. Professors are told they can tell students they are “highly encouraged” or “expected” to put on masks, but cannot force students to do so. And teachers can’t ask students who have Covid-like symptoms to leave the classroom.
University administrators are desperately trying to avoid the pitfalls of last year when outbreaks on some campuses spread the virus to surrounding communities. Some faculty members are calling for stricter security measures, which should be weighed against the fear of losing students (and revenue) fed up with online education.
Sure, some professors are happy to go maskless, even if others have refused to teach or dropped out — one in the middle of the class — because of what they see as lax virus restrictions. Most, however, fight on, and for some, the new year doesn’t bring a return to normal, but a strong sense that things are derailing.
In the early weeks of class, cases have surged in schools including Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Arizona State, Liberty University, the University of Arkansas, the University of North Florida, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“It seems like a repeat,” said Michael Atzmon, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan. “On the one hand, we have the vaccine. On the other side, we have Delta.”
Fauci on children and Covid
dr. Anthony Fauci will join Times journalists on September 9 to answer important questions for parents, educators and students in a live event for Times subscribers.
The discussion will be moderated by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Times columnist and founder of DealBook. He will be joined by Times journalists (who are parents themselves), including Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter, and Lisa Damour, a contributing writer and psychologist.
View the events page here.
US surpasses 40 million cases
More than 40 million cases of the virus have been recorded in the US — more than the population of California and one-fifth of the known global total.
The staggering number is testament to the country’s uneven efforts to cope with the virus, and of late, the contagiousness of the Delta variant, which has ushered in a third wave of cases across the country.
As ICUs across the country fill up, governors are begging residents to get vaccinated.
“I wish everyone could have seen what I saw at the ICU last night,” said Republican Idaho Governor Brad Little. The state’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said it had activated crisis standards for care, the emergency measures taken when insufficient health care resources are available, in the northern part of the state.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice also called for more vaccinations, saying the virus had flooded many of his state’s hospitals and closed schools there. “We’ve got a really great situation in West Virginia, as it is across the country,” he said.
In Oregon, the director of the state’s health authority said on Saturday that only 50 of the state’s 638 ICU beds were still available. Central Texas, which also includes Austin, ran out of ICU beds this weekend. And Alabama is short of 181 ICU beds, meaning dozens of patients have to wait in emergency rooms or other parts of hospitals.
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What are you doing
This newsletter has been my lifeline since the start of the pandemic. It scared me, it made me cry, it started to fill me with hope since the vaccines were developed, but it lasted and above all it gives me a great perspective. I got vaccinated as I could, but my partner didn’t, because he grew up in an anthroposophical home. It’s hard to accept this. For a while I was very afraid, especially with the Delta variant, that he or his mother would become infected through me. I have recently decided that it is not my responsibility to keep them safe. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but I’m still concerned. I just can’t get along with people who refuse their privilege to get vaccinated, and in this case it’s the person I love the most.
— Ida Mai Hess, Berlin, Germany
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Amelia Nierenberg contributed to today’s newsletter.
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