By Ian Krietzberg
Nation & World Editor
In January of this year, it was largely ignored by the Western world. But in just a few months, SARS-CoV-2, better known as the novel coronavirus, spread globally, sent college students home and forced a nearly nationwide quarantine.
Among concerns surrounding the health of both patients and healthcare workers, college students are also troubled by a million dollar question: will campus still be closed for the fall semester? Certain institutions, such as Boston University, are already thinking about this eventuality, publicly discussing the possibility.
“We’ve made the big decisions relating to the spring and summer,” Boston University President Robert A. Brown said in a statement. “We are now in a position to focus on the fall and the best and safest way in which to bring the residential teaching and research community back onto campus when time and public health considerations permit.”
While the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 during the upcoming fall semester is real, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs William Keep said that it’s too early to be making any definite calls.
“Some healthcare professionals are telling us that if we don’t have the vaccine or a really significant, rapid and effective treatment, then we can’t be bringing people back,” Keep said, citing the extensive pre-planning that another online semester would require. “I do think that institutions including TCNJ will have to make a decision by late spring or early summer.”
According to CNN, the U.S. has seen more than 730,000 cases of coronavirus since January, and of these cases, it has witnessed close to 40,000 fatalities. New Jersey has the second-highest concentration of coronavirus cases, with 81,420, behind New York, which has 242,424. Trends suggest that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is doubling every two weeks, something Keep recognized.
As for students’ return in the fall, Keep said that “the probability is not zero.”
Between now and the moment to make the call for the fall semester, the administration is working to compile information, with President Kathryn Foster and Keep having near-constant conversations with other state schools and cabinet officials, while simultaneously ensuring that the remaining weeks of the spring semester continue as smoothly as possible.
“We wish that we were going to just walk away from our computers after exams are in and projects are done,” Keep said. “But if we do have to do something, whatever that might be, we will value student input.”
Student input has already taken shape in the College’s pass/fail policy for the spring semester, following a petition that received over 1,000 student signatures. Such feedback and willingness to forge through these trying times has impressed Keep.
“TCNJ students have reacted remarkably well,” he said. “It’s been amazing how flexible they’ve been, how willing they’ve been to be positive in their classroom, with their peers. The students deserve to be a little self-satisfied and a little happy with themselves in being able to make this transition under a really difficult situation.”