I’m so friggin’ excited that I might even wear dress socks for the first time in 20 months.
It is possible that I am an outlier in my enthusiasm. The start of the fall semester means the end of summer, a professor’s most research-intensive period. All across my social media feeds, my colleagues spent the past few weeks talking about having to go back to school with all the grumpiness of an elementary-school kid.
To be fair, the delta coronavirus variant has complicated this return to the classroom for many. My Post colleague Susan Svrluga reported a few weeks ago that “some professors are fearful because their universities face state bans on vaccine mandates and have large populations of people hesitant or unwilling to get the shots.” She also noted that “some feel comfortable with the conditions for themselves but are anxious about passing the infection on to unvaccinated young children or immunocompromised family members.”
On the flip side, there are concerns that some universities have been overzealous in their response to the delta variant. Inside Higher Ed’s Elizabeth Redden reports that Amherst College announced an outdoor mask mandate as well as severe limitations on off-campus travel for the first few weeks of classes — including trips to the town of Amherst. This triggered a student outcry, including a letter of protest signed by more than 400 students. In response, Amherst President Biddy Martin relaxed the outdoor mask mandate somewhat but refused to budge otherwise, prompting criticism. Other colleges have gone further, reverting to fully remote classrooms this fall.
My thoughts on this matter are grounded in the fact that my university did far better than I expected at having in-person classes without runaway numbers of infections last year. This year, Fletcher has mandated vaccinations for students, staff and faculty; requires indoor masking in classrooms and public spaces; and will have once-a-week testing to start the semester.
That seems about right to me. On Tuesday, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted what recent research on the delta variant suggested about the likelihood of catching the coronavirus: “How small are the chances of the average vaccinated American contracting covid? Probably about one in 5,000 per day, and even lower for people who take precautions or live in a highly vaccinated community.” In highly vaccinated, mask-wearing Massachusetts, those odds are even lower: “in places with many fewer cases — like the Northeast — the chances are lower, probably less than 1 in 10,000.”
Physician Ashish Jha thinks Leonhardt is too pessimistic:
Jha told Leonhardt’s colleague Tara Parker-Pope, “There’s been a lot of miscommunication about what the risks really are to vaccinated people, and how vaccinated people should be thinking about their lives. There are people who think we are back to square one, but we are in a much, much better place.”
For me, the calculus is simple. On the one hand, I’m fully vaccinated, my students are fully vaccinated, my odds of catching covid are ridiculously small and my odds of getting really, really sick if I do catch it are astronomically small. On the other hand, I hate teaching students remotely and want to avoid a reprise of that scenario at all costs.
So yes, even though I don’t like having to teach with a mask, and even though it will probably be a smidgen harder for them to understand what I say and vice versa, I will be teaching in person today. And I will be much happier than I was a year ago.