There’s been plenty of speculation about whether the University System of Georgia would hold in-person classes in the fall. In an April 29 Archnews email, the University of Georgia seemingly put those discussions to rest by announcing plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall after a “phased, gradual reopening” in the summer.
I would certainly like to return to the Athens campus for the fall semester. However, keeping a large student body healthy poses some logistical challenges. UGA must address these to ensure it is safe to be on campus.
It’s important to keep in mind there’s still a chance in-person classes won’t be held in the fall. In the Archnews email, UGA President Jere Morehead said the situation is “fluid” and that the university will receive advice from Georgia public health officials. It's also just hard to know where we'll be in a few months, especially given the possibility of a second wave.
Still, if UGA wants to hold in-person classes in the fall, it should start planning now.
College campuses are hotbeds for the spread of viruses even in normal times. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu can spread quickly on college campuses because students are constantly surrounded by others. Whether you are sharing a bathroom in a dorm, taking a bus around campus, sitting in class or eating at a dining hall, you’re rarely alone.
The novel coronavirus is more infectious than the flu, making us more vulnerable to an outbreak. Although young people are less likely to suffer serious health problems from COVID-19, a campus outbreak could pose an issue for older professors and those with underlying conditions.
Therefore, the university must start planning now.
First, UGA should implement mandatory random testing. Detecting cases early on will help the university track and trace the virus. If a student or faculty member tests positive, the university could then ask everyone that person came into contact with to be tested as well.
Second, the university will probably need to reduce class sizes. Though they are a staple of college life, large lecture classes aren't practical at this time. Packing hundreds of students into one room isn’t safe. The university might need to lower other class sizes too to make sure students can maintain a safe distance from each other.
Third, the university will need to find a way to lower the number of students in the dining halls. Anyone who has been on North Campus knows that the Bolton Dining Commons is so packed every week day around lunchtime that it's hard to find a seat. That can't happen now. Perhaps the university could offer delivery services or takeout.
Finally, the university will need to implement stricter cleaning measures. Given the size of UGA, certain surfaces like door handles, chairs and tables may come into contact with thousands of people daily. UGA will probably have to clean highly-trafficked areas like the Zell B. Miller Learning Center and the Tate Student Center constantly. This may force the university to hire more cleaning staff.
These won't be easy changes for the university to make, and they might not be enough. However, they are necessary to keep the UGA community safe if in-person instruction resumes in the fall.