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Professors fear in-person instruction as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide

As campus after campus reports coronavirus outbreaks, college professors are speaking out against returning to work. 

It’s not that they don’t want to teach and are pushing back against online learning. Rather, they’re just scared that teaching will literally kill them this year—or at least make them very sick.

Tad Theimer, biology professor at Northern Arizona University, is considering resigning before heading back to school, describing this as a “moral dilemma.” 

Northern Arizona University has 20,000 students, and plans to begin a hybrid teaching plan. But professors, community members, and even some students are warning about the disastrous outcomes of such a move.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state reached more than 200,000 on Sept. 11, an increase of 521 from the previous day, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. In July, Arizona averaged 3,075 new cases daily. This was before Arizona opened its doors to college students.

Throughout the country, colleges that have only just started in-person classes are already in dire shape. A New York Times survey found that colleges and universities in the United States recorded more than 36,000 new COVID cases the week of September 4th, bringing the total number of campus infections to 88,000.

At The State University of New York at Oneonta, for example, it took less than two weeks for 500 cases to emerge. At Notre Dame, 12,000 students tested positive after eight days. Many colleges have tried staggering dorm move-in dates, suspending students who partied, and have even initiated in-dorm e-learning. But the cases have continued to rise.

Some universities are quickly trying to change course. Johns Hopkins and Princeton Universities were planning on reopening in person, but they pivoted to in-person for the fall. Most of the California-area colleges will also be online, while other colleges around the country will be implementing a hybrid-option.

But professors at the colleges that are opening with hybrid and/or full in-person classes are truly scared for their health—and their lives. 

In an open letter to students published in the “Charlotte Observer,” tenured professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pleaded with students not to return to campus.

“We recognize that some of you will have to live on campus this fall semester for financial or personal reasons, and we want to help ensure that campus is safe for you,” they wrote. “We implore the rest of you to stay home this fall.” 

If all else fails, there’s one method that appears to be helping curb COVID cases: Rapid testing and on-site temperature checks.

Some FDA-authorized rapid tests, such as the RT-PCR DNA swab kit, can have results online within 72 hours. These can be provided to students, faculty, and administration staff in order to lower the window of transmission. 

One study found that up to ⅓ of Ebola infections could have been stopped if rapid tests had been used, and many healthcare specialists are equating these results with COVID-19.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff is a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter turned award-winning freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, health, business, shopping, parenting and travel writing. Her articles have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Women’s Health, Self, Woman’s Day, Men’s Health, Budget Travel, Health, Marie Claire, New York Newsday, Chicago Sun-Times, Better Homes and Gardens, Time Out New York Kids, and Every Day with Rachel Ray. Danielle is also the Chicago correspondent for Afar magazine, and she writes its weekly column about what to do in and around Chicago.