Yale reopens, but at what cost?

August 19, 2020 • 12:37 pm

Matthew called my attention to a tweet quoting this article from Yale University’s student paper, the Yale Daily News. (Click on the screenshot).

Unlike most colleges, which are closing as fast as a revolving door, Yale plans to reopen this fall with stringent health protocols in place. Only three cohorts (first- third- and fourth year students) will be able to live on campus, and while classes will mostly be conducted remotely, some, involving lab or studio work, will be live.

According to the article below, Yale’s school of public health has set out conditions for a safe reopening, which includes Covid-19 testing of all students twice a week, at a cost of $25 to $30 per test.  (The article doesn’t mention testing staff, faculty, or other employees.)


But this is the part that got me. (Remember that the residence heads of Silliman college used to be Nicholas and Erika Christakis, both hounded out of their Silliman jobs because of a Halloween-costume email from Erika telling students to use their own discretion.)  Here’s another, and much scarier, email (my emphasis):

From the paper:

In a July 1 email to Silliman College residents when Yale first announced its plan to reopen on-campus housing, Head of College and psychology professor Laurie Santos warned Yale’s “community compact” was not to be taken lightly, treated like some course readings and skimmed for main ideas. She explained that some staff members are from sectors of society that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and that they do not have the choice of whether to come to campus. At the time, Yale was planning to test returning students once per week — a plan that the University modified several weeks later, when it announced that it would instead test students twice weekly.

“We all should be emotionally prepared for widespread infections — and possibly deaths — in our community,” Santos’s email reads. “You should emotionally prepare for the fact that your residential college life will look more like a hospital unit than a residential college.”

What the heck? Deaths and hospital units? If Dr. Santos is serious, and I assume she is, the students shouldn’t be coming back at all. In fact, I think it’s unwise for nearly any college to start live teaching with residential students this fall, and college after college is changing its plans to reopen (cf. Notre Dame, Michigan State, University of North Carolina); more will come.

Covid-19 isn’t under control, students will be converging at colleges from all over the country as well as from overseas, and many students have proven themselves unwilling to abide by quarantine restrictions. (Horrific scenes of crowded parties, without mask-wearing, have appeared often.)  And really, can you expect students to come back to school and socialize only with single other students wearing masks and staying six feet apart? What kind of college experience is that? Moreover, they’ll be living in college and learning remotely. (Living away from college and learning remotely may be safer, but it’s just as dreadful for one’s education. Were I a Yalie or a Harvard student, I’d simply take a year’s absence.

Is there any college out there that can open “safely,” that is, the risk of a viral infection is outweighed by the advantages of being together with a lot of isolated students and learning mostly from a computer screen? I can’t imagine one.

29 thoughts on “Yale reopens, but at what cost?

  1. Discussion on WEIT – in little comment boxes – has taught me how valuable school-in-person is, and indeed how important it is to discuss things freely.

  2. If the definition of safety is not being at risk for viral infection, we never can be and never have been safe.

      1. Young people are bigger risk-takers I suppose. I imagine they will indulge in risky behaviour at home as well as in college. They probably have outbreaks of meningitis each year when colleges open after the summer. Is it safer to have them all together away from families & older relatives?
        However there are also staff who may be more at risk. It is a lottery perhaps…

    1. Agreed. There is a risk in everything in life. At one time we would have said there are risks but there can be some acceptable number of casualties. Now it seems that no level is acceptable. Or rather, the risks we account for are all the bleedin’ obvious & immediate, but we do not look at longer term risks & cumulative risks. The risks to children from isolation & lack of exercise for example.

      Protect the people who need that most, educate people about risk, make inoculation compulsory for series diseases.

    2. We calculate risk by statistics. Pre-pandemic, there was virtually no health risk to being on campus. With covid, if it spreads unchecked, we’re looking at an unknown number of deaths, but say 1 percent, how many students and staff is that? And long-term or permanent health damage appears to be much higher.

      So based on that analysis the prudent course of action is to get the virus under control first, and then reopen. To do it in reverse will allow the virus to spread for years on end.

      And to control it, for now, means avoiding in person classes and dorm life, where it will spread rapidly.

      Not sure why I have to say all this that is simply obvious.

  3. The mass, regular testing is a good idea. But it would work a lot better if they started bi-weekly tests a week or two before bringing the students into contact with each other, then prevented anyone with a positive from even appearing on campus.

    Obviously I’m not calling for the university to send health center personnel out to every students’ home, but what about “you must go to the doctor and have yourself tested, and send the results to us, starting 14 days before your planned arrival on campus”?

    1. A much better suggestion than Yale’s current plans. In the UK, Durham University is offering new students the chance to defer their studies to next year when they will be guaranteed university accommodation and given a bursary as well. (This is driven more by the exams fiasco than by the virus, although without the virus the exams fiasco wouldn’t have happened. That said, given the clowns in charge in England I suppose they could well have managed to mess things up in a different way without any help from the pandemic.)

    2. It would be very easy for them to contract the virus between their negative test result and their arrival on campus, though. My understanding is that students will be tested upon arrival on campus, students with positive test results will have to quarantine, and students from – eh, let’s call them problem states – will have to quarantine for two weeks regardless of their results. I don’t know how compliance will be enforced.

  4. Ironically, Dr. Santos’s podcast is called “The Happiness Lab.” As a Yale employee, I have grave concerns – not so much for myself (my field permits me to continue to work remotely) – but for the students, faculty, and staff, including the custodial and dining staff. Not to mention the non-Yale people who live in New Haven. Boolah boolah?

  5. I rather like her remarks; she’s stating the unvarnished truth that students will get sick and die at unheard of rates. Rather than push pablum like most administrators (we’re following the guidelines, doing everything we can, our students’ safety is our main concern) she’s putting it out front and center. I wish more people in positions of authority would be as blunt.

    1. Except that in this case it doesn’t seem warranted. If you’re a random person with the virus, you have about a 3% chance of dying. But college students are among the least likely to die. Of that 3% who’ve died, only 0.2% were college-aged and of those whose health condition was known over 99% had an aggravating underlying condition. So if you’re a young adult without an aggravating condition your chance of dying from the virus is practically nil.

      The risk to professors is more substantial…

    2. In the age group from which students are normally drawn, something like 1.4% of all deaths are from COVID19. That’s in spite of the fact that they are the ones most likely to break the quarantine rules.

      She is wildly exaggerating the risks to the students but perhaps not to the older members of staff.

  6. Given what has already happened on those college campuses that have opened (UNC, Notre Dame, etc.), why is Yale even trying to open?

    1. And how’s this for wishful thinking?
      ‘But Pericles Lewis, Vice Provost for Global Strategy and chair of the residential and extracurricular contingency planning committee, wrote to the News that he believes that students will abide by the compact, as Yale students “care about the health and safety of others.” He added that the University is recruiting student public health educators, who will help their peers grasp the importance of the compact.’
      That’s worked just so well elsewhere.

      1. Dear god. Do none of these people have qualified psychologists on hand? Basing a life or death strategy on compliance shows a complete and absolute lack of understanding of human beings!

    1. A sign at the entrance could show a skull & cross bones & read: “Attendance at this institution may result in bodily harm or even death”

  7. That does stink, but Yale students and staff have it good compared to University of Michigan folks.

    students moving into our residence halls and apartments will be tested for COVID-19 before they arrive on campus. Those who test positive will have to remain at home for at least 10 days before coming to Ann Arbor. Students who arrive on campus not having been tested will be given a test and limited in their interactions until results are back.

    (source) Pathetic. And this:

    There also will be surveillance testing of several thousand students, faculty and staff each week on a random opt-in basis throughout the semester (statistical approaches will be used by public health faculty experts to correct for the sample biases introduced by using an opt-in approach). We anticipate screening around 3,000-3,500 individuals weekly,

    — is inadequate. (The total Ann Arbor undergrad + grad student population is about 48,000, although some may be allowed to study remotely.) I live less than 3 miles from this sh**storm. Oh joy.

  8. This smacks of a desperate need for funds. Given Yale’s reputation and prestige, I can’t imagine /why/ they’d need an infusion of funds so badly that they’d risk students and staff in this way. Young people may not die of Covid-19 [as much] as older people, but more and more research is indicating that Covid-19 is a vascular disease rather than a respiratory disease, and that means victims could end up with life long health problems.

    I hope Yale is well insured because it could face massive class actions once this virus is finally beaten.

  9. Wow. If I read that paragraph I would most definitely not be going anywhere near the place. Is there some sort of psychological trick going on here? Make it sound so scary that people won’t actually come back? Meanwhile you can say you opened fully and tout that as a success?

    Geez! Things aren’t so bad here in Scotland. My university has been lax with communication but I think we’re doing hybrid teaching, some online and some in person. But it’s much worse in the US so I can’t see why they’re even trying to do live teaching, it’s bound to horribly backfire. (Might do so here as well of course, who knows?)

  10. I understand that the service academies are opening up. All four classes of students live in the dormatories, go to in person classes, in addition to attending 3 meals a day in huge dining rooms. Of course they can pretty much guarantee as close to 100% compliance with mask wearing and other rules and regulations such as might be in place. So will the staff and faculty who are also to a large part military as well. I do not know the frequency of testing that will be done. If this ongoing experiment is successful it might be proof of a model, albeit hard to duplicate in a non-military discipline setting, that would allow opening of campuses.

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