What was once a bustling campus is now an empty school. Since March, Mount Union has not seen its two thousand students who call it home. In fact, universities across the globe had no choice but to send students home due to the worldwide pandemic caused by COIVD-19. For nearly five months, society has been working together to defeat the Coronavirus and develop a new normal. Now with the fall semester quickly approaching, universities have a decision to make. Should we reopen for the fall semester?
The University of Mount Union plans to begin classes for the fall semester of 2020 on Aug. 24. They have released a Responsible Reopening Guideline. (https://www.mountunion.edu/fall-2020-responsible-reopening) that they expect students and staff to follow.
With the cancellation of the fall sports seasons, students will be encouraged not to gather in masses at events and contact between different schools will be avoided, since there will not be athletes traveling to games. Teams will likely still be conducting practices and are asked to participate in the voluntary self-quarantine prior to arriving on campus. As this is voluntary, there is no guarantee that everyone will isolate themselves for two weeks before arriving to campus.
Students are also encouraged to stay on campus and not return home until winter break. The semester will end Nov. 24 with no fall break or final exam week. Students are losing approximately one week of education compared to prior years with no final exam week. Professors may feel rushed to include exams in the normal class time of semester. This will lead to potentially less study time and less material covered for the same tuition rate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shared that wearing a mask and social distancing has helped prevent the spread of COVID-19, but how will this be maintained at universities? Mount Union has two thousand students which is small compared to Division I colleges who have tens of thousands of students, but that is still a lot of people. How will Mount Union ensure and enforce face coverings and social distancing? They plan to limit the number of students in class but outside of class is harder to enforce.
In the dining hall they have created set times that members of residence halls should eat lunch and have asked students to create a “family” group and always eat with those same people. Mount Union is doing the best they can to take physical distancing precautions but what about resident halls and housing?
In shared space in resident areas, students are required to wear a mask and are limited to one guest at a time. Even with this rule, the University must trust that students will keep their visiting limited. One guest per room means nothing if you have a new guest every day. In small dorms, it may be challenging to social distance. The CDC shares the best way to keep yourself and those around you safe while living in shared spaces (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/shared-housing/index.html).
Students want to return to school and Universities want students back on campus. People understand that things have changed but it may still be too soon to start returning to “normal” even with these new guidelines and precautions. Ultimately, students and staff must take the reopening procedures seriously and do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The University is trusting that students will wear their masks and social distance during class time and out of class. If students across the country do not follow guidelines, universities may be forced to send students home again to quarantine and America may very quickly see a rise in cases that could lead to another shut down. Are universities ready to take the blame for another outbreak?