At the current rate, tens of thousands of college campus deaths are expected in Fall 2020 from COVID-19 related infections. With some college officials planning to reopen schools, students and professors face a deadly decision: Go to class and risk dying; or learn online and save lives? The answer is clear. School-related COVID-19 deaths can be prevented by using science and data-driven decisions.

“ The number of massive school shooting deaths is minuscule in comparison to the number of potential COVID-19 school-related deaths projected at U.S. colleges this Fall 2020. If infection rates remain the same and schools reopen without effective social distancing measures and without effective COVID-19 medical treatments available, statistics show that tens of thousands could potentially die on college campuses.  Will colleges take legal responsibility for student and faculty deaths?  Colleges can move fast to prevent COVID-19 deaths in the Fall. You must use data-driven decisions to help keep your students alive.” -Olympia LePoint

Colleges Are Untreated COVID-19 Death Traps

“College Life” is about connection.  Some married couples were college sweethearts who met in their dining hall. Best friends met in their dorm as roommates.  Business colleagues may have been inches from another in their MBA class. They breathed the same air and touched the same desk as the following Sociology class. Hallways are filled with students who gasp for air as they run to their classes. Gyms have sweat-filled-air coming from the next NBA and NFL star athletes. Graduate students bond with their thesis professors in small, darkly-lit offices as new ideas are devised. Without medical precautions, these connections create a breeding ground for COVID-19. Connections without precautions can become death traps.

When professors first start teaching, they rarely think twice when students sneeze, cough or sniffle with running noses. Soon after, time revealed that they needed to be concerned about their own health, along with their students’ heath. Despite having a strong immune system, teachers repeatedly get colds 3 to 4 times a year.

A retired schoolteacher recommended that teachers wash their hands and never touch their face under any circumstances.  This advice worked for many until early January 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a highly infectious respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in December 2019 during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. For teachers, washing hands was not going to be enough to stay alive. To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on college campuses, you must know the numbers in the infection rates. And you must develop plans to save student and faculty lives by making two unconventional decisions.

Let’s Do The Math:

The following text is a basic explanation of math calculations to help give insight to the danger of COVID-19 infections on college campuses. Please note that major future projections are performed by Centers of Disease Control officials.

Deaths can be prevented. Currently, 90 deaths are expected per year in mass school shootings. According to the 2019 CNN article, “ 10 years. 180 school shootings. 356 victims.” by Christina Walker, there were approximately 30 school shooting per year in the United States in 2019. CNN’s review found that shootings at schools have an average of three casualties.  You must consider the math: If we have 30 schools with shootings, and we see an average of 3 killings per school, 90 school related-school fatalities are expected each year through shootings.  Currently, thousands of people protest these innocent deaths.

Now, let’s compare that rate to COVID-19 death rates for young adults. I mathematically estimate tens of thousands of people could die on college campuses due to COVID-19 infections if there are no medical protections are in place. In the Web MD article “ 20% of US COVID-19 Deaths Were Young Adults,” a review of more than 4,000 United States patients who were diagnosed with novel coronavirus infection (COVID-19) shows that an unexpected 20% of deaths occurred among adults aged 20-64 years, and 20% of those hospitalized were aged 20-44 years. These age ranges are identical to most United States college students, professors, faculty and staff ages.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United states has approximately 21.4 million faculty members and students at colleges. There are currently 19.9 million college students in the United States. And there are 1.5 million faculty members in the United States. This number is used to estimate the potential number of COVID-19 infections for Fall 2020.

There is currently a 3% COVID-19 infection rate and a 5% death rate per the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) current total as of today. Please note that this value changes daily. But we will assume the rate will stay the same for the Fall 2020 when scientists expect a resurgence of COVID-19. At the time of this article being written on April 28, 2020, there has been confirmed 1,000,000 COVID-19 infections in the United States. This number is forever changing due to the nature of the pandemic. Currently, the United States has a total population of 331,002,651 people in the country. If the data currently shows an average of 3% COVID-19 infection rate, college campuses are at a major risk.

We must recognize that the COVID-19 infection rates may be closer to 11% on college campuses. Nearly 11% of all health care workers are infected with COVID-19. Through several media reports, the infection rate in hospitals, hotels and grocery stores is also 11%. These locations are where people are in close contact and inches away from each other.  Talking, breathing and coughing is common in college classrooms.  .

With cafeterias, college desks in proximity, the lack of soaps in bathrooms, and close professor-to-student communication, I estimate that we can expect a similar 11% infection rate at colleges as the worst case scenario. With the worst-case scenario of a 11% infection rate, we can estimate 2,354,000 students and faculty could be infected with COVID-19. Now this number is only a rough estimate. If we assume that no one is immune to the virus, and people can potential be reinfected, 2,354,000 is a representative of the concern on campuses. With the current COVID-19 death rate of 5% of the confirmed cases, then considering 20% of that death rate being between ages 20-44, we can gain a rough estimate range of potential college deaths. That means that a range of 23,540 up to 117,700 people on college campuses could die if there are no medical protections in place. We have not considered elementary school or high school teacher deaths in this total. Can you risk that chance?

Decision 1: Expand Virtual Education Until COVID-19 Can Be Treated

Social distancing measures is nearly impossible for universities and colleges, unless you provide online classes for 75% to 100% of your entire school population. Virtual education is an effective solution to help students stay safe. Currently, social distancing measures show that individuals must be at least six feet away from each other, and 10 feet away when someone is running or biking.   To add, people are advised to wear N95 masks while in public.  Similarly, hands must be washed regularly.  Seats and surfaces must be disinfected and washed after being touched.  Unless campuses provide these supplies for all people on campus, students will have to wear masks and bring their own cleaning materials to school. 

Do you think college students are prepared? In my experience, college students’ brains are still forming. They are learning to use their frontal brain lobes to make important decisions. And at times, they struggle with self-care.   College students forget books during class lectures.  They do not eat breakfast often.  Many times, they have no paper or pen for lectures.  Some students drink, smoke and increase their own medical risks for pre-existing conditions. In a “normal” setting, they can survive.

But these pandemic times are not “normal.” Do you think students will remember to bring their masks?  Will students have the money to buy cleaning products to disinfect their desks every class?  Do you honestly believe that all students will stay 6 feet away from each other, especially when flirting? Is it possible for students to be 6 feet away from other students in a 300-person lecture hall? What happens when one infected student forgets to bring a mask and sneezes in a 300-person lecture hall?

To solve these issues, campuses can covert 75% to 100% of their Fall 2020 enrollment to online education. A fraction can elect to attend campus in-person only if they sign a waiver and bring their own safety precautions.  This online form of education would not be permanent. Virtual education would effectively prevent deaths while the COVID-19 virus is being characterized by the World Health Organization. And financially, the decision to move Fall 2020 courses online will prevent lawsuits from parents who will require campuses to pay for their college student’s death.

Decision 2: Invest in Part-Time Teacher’s Health Benefits

According to the American Association of University Professors, part-timer professors hold over 65% of faculty positions in two-year institutions and almost 50% at master’s and baccalaureate institutions.  According to the article, “There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts,” by Caroline Frederickson in The Atlantic, we discover some shocking news about part-time faculty members:

“Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line.  And, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

Most part-time faculty are not eligible for tenure, nor are they given medical insurance as part of their part-time employment.    Part-time faculty members range from 30 to 65 in age and they receive far less support for their professional development and protections.  This financial situation directly affects someone’s willingness to stay home during a potential COVID-19 exposure.  Research shows that the low-income individuals are being significantly affected by the COVID-19 virus. Part-time professors are in the age range, and in the financial range, for potential infection. If students make professors ill, how will professors survive? The cycle may never end.

To combat this deep socio-medical issue, colleges can provide paid medical packages and paid sick leave to its part-time teachers for the Fall 2020 enrollment to ensure teachers also have a safety net.  Pre-pandemic, teachers were placed into a position where they had to decide to stay home sick and miss pay, or work and become more ill. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the choice becomes life or death.  Campus officials can easily save faculty lives by offering paid sick leave and medical insurance to part-time faulty, so professors have a way to protect and isolate themselves during the pandemic.

If you are an educator, parent, or student, know these statistics to stay safe. We can save lives by knowing the numbers. And my prayers are with you.

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Olympia LePoint