There should be no face-to-face classes at any of the University of Hawaii campuses in the Fall 2020 semester. Holding classes face-to-face would risk drastically increasing the Covid-19 infection and death rates.
In an email dated May 4, 2020, UH President David Lassner stated that, "the University of Hawaiʻi plans to resume in-person classes on all 10 campuses beginning August 24, 2020." Later, on May 15, 2020 President Lassner and top administrators stated that, "plans are now being developed as to how we can best operate safely and effectively in Fall 2020." Such a plan, they say, prioritizes the accommodation of "high-risk students, faculty and staff, quarantined or ill students, [and] international students who are unable to travel to campus." While we are asked to wait for a more definite plan likely to be released by June 30th, we are told that "public health best practices" will guide decision making going forward.
The half-measures proposed by UH, however, fail to prioritize the health and safety of UH students, faculty, and staff or, indeed, the general public. Available research carried out by epidemiologists, immunologists, and public health officials, show that the only effective way to avoid spreading Covid-19 on our campuses is for no one to gather at them. Opening the campuses to masses of students, faculty, and staff will create large public gatherings with all the inherent dangers.
Nothing that has been suggested - or is currently available - will prevent the spread of Covid-19 if UH resumes in-person classes in August 2020. Classrooms with people sitting six feet apart and wearing masks will still lead to the transmission of Covid-19, as numerous studies about the spread of vapor droplets from breathing, sneezing, coughing, or just talking, show. The virus can spread throughout an entire room in seconds. Wiping surfaces and doors would make them virus free until the next carrier touches them. Other discussions about closing some bathrooms, limiting class sizes, or having students attend on alternating days, also miss the point.
Moreover, given that many of our students will be coming to Hawaii from elsewhere (a neighbour island, from other parts of the United States or internationally), and given that many of our students work in the tourism industry, we cannot expect that the virus will not be circulating amongst them and/or their family members and end up back on our campuses and in our classrooms - and from there to the rest of the public.
While the health and safety concerns of certain groups may be considered, and while some UH departments may offer instructors the choice as to whether or not they wish to teach face-to-face or online, neither accommodation will protect the health and safety of all students, faculty, staff, and the general public. The only responsible resolution is to offer all UH courses on-line until such time that an effective vaccine or treatment is found and is made readily available and affordable to all.
The organizing principle moving forward ought to be the one that guides all scientific endeavors: do not harm. We simply do not know the long term effects of this novel coronavirus for survivors, but they may include organ damage and other effects, including in children. Those students, faculty or staff who feel it is heroic or selfless to go back to in-person classrooms may end up sacrificing lives to do so, putting everyone else they encounter at risk.
While it is true that the state of Hawaii has relatively low Covid-19 infection and death rates, this is largely due to the combination of "stay at home" orders, mandatory quarantines for visitors, physical distancing practices, and the general shutting down of businesses and services. Resuming in-person instruction would remove most of those effective strategies. While the curve may indeed be flattened in Hawaii, this is not an argument for opening up UH. Instead, the key lesson is that the curve only flattens - and stays flattened - when we stay at home and physically distance from one another.
Therefore, we demand that UH follow the example of the California State University (CSU) system and other public universities and move all classes online in order to protect faculty, students, campus workers, and the broader community.
- For a study on the transmission of viruses through droplets, see: Erin Bromage's, "The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them," https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?fbclid=IwAR3LJkaGcOkpt1eYz-Utfv4VTpBA4D4P7OA_4BkPTwOcophNanE_styggI4
- For a study on organ damage see: Lisa Summers's "Why your health may never be the same after Covid-19," at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-52506669
- For a report on the effects of Covid-10 on children, see: Ivana Kottasová and Jacqueline Howard's, "Doctors in Italy make a link between Covid-19 and rare 'Kawasaki-like' inflammatory disease in children," https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/14/health/children-inflammatory-disease-covid-19-intl/index.html
- For news about the California State University system moving to online classes see Shawn Hubler's "Fearing a Second Wave, Cal State Will Keep Classes Online in the Fall," https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/12/us/cal-state-online-classes.html?smid=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR2qngJAmYTVZCudcevPIm8qPHQonIJn5cGVKQalyVcnzoCjmAtvC_L32L0