New U.S. cases of COVID-19 have risen to more than 129,000 cases per day. This is the highest average since early February. In North Carolina, more than 2,400 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Breakthrough cases are increasing. Our ICUs are full or almost full. Last fall, the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 was used as one metric to move teaching online.
Rushing back to the classroom this week puts us all at risk.
As we learned from the past two semesters, online teaching, although not always optimal, can work well. Clearly, we can move to remote classes for the next four to six weeks until the more transmissible delta variant surge is brought under control.
UNC Hospital infectious disease physician Dr. David Wohl said on Aug. 13, “We're in trouble. We are going to have a very bumpy few weeks … It's only going to get worse. We are backsliding.”
The current plan for UNC — which includes no “off-ramp” for remote learning, unlike last fall, and no vaccine mandate — is for regular classrooms with no physical distancing, near-full dorms, football games with no masks, and full to capacity dining halls. This is a formula for disaster.
We need a block of time to get this situation under control. As the Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman, Chair of the Employee Forum Katie Musgrove, UNC-CH Student Body President Lamar Richards, and Neel Swamy, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government wrote in The Daily Tar Heel, “A few weeks of remote instruction would allow our campus to get more people vaccinated.”
Jill Moore, Secretary of the Faculty and a professor in the School of Government who studies North Carolina communicable disease law, has said that there is no legal reason for N.C. universities to refrain from mandating vaccines.
A. David Paltiel, professor of public health at Yale, said that college leaders who do not require vaccines were guilty of a dereliction of duty: “They’re not taking care of their constituents. It really comes down to whether they have any business opening their doors.”
We understand that some staff members will need to be on campus. They must be provided with PPE in the form of N95 masks, time off to get vaccinated or tested and hazard pay. Remote teaching will create a safer environment with fewer students, faculty and staff on campus.
The time to act is now. We, UNC-CH instructors, call upon Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin to delay in-person classes until the metrics improve. This is the only moral and compassionate path. We require bold and courageous leadership. The risks are too high.
Professor of History
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