IU released a study Nov. 20 about the safety of in-person classes and their effect on COVID-19 spread. It found an inverse relationship between a student’s number of in-person credit hours and their likelihood of contracting COVID-19. In short, the more in-person classes a student had, the less likely they were to contract the coronavirus.
This is encouraging, and even promising when it comes to the future of having classes in-person. The results mean the measures IU has taken in its in-person classes such as masks, social distancing and smaller class sizes have been effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
Although this is good news, it is all very recent data, and there is still plenty of research that needs to be done before we can have more certainty about the safety of in-person classes. In addition to this, in-person classes may be really hard to manage in the near future, especially with students tired of online instruction. As soon as there are in-person options for class, there will be many eager to seize the opportunity to be in a classroom again.
In addition to this, the study seemed to only examine the number of in-person classes and whether or not you tested positive for coronavirus without taking into account other factors for this extremely low positivity rate. For example in many classes, in-person attendance was not required, which can contribute to the rather low positivity rate. Although a few statistics were released, it's hard to tell what other variables were at play as well.
There are so many factors to consider now when planning in-person classes, and there definitely won’t be any major changes from the fall 2020 semester to the spring 2021 semester. But what could in-person classes start to look like moving forward?
Obviously, it's hard to make any concrete predictions due to the ever-changing nature of the situation, between new studies and information as well as the status of possible vaccines. However, there are some things that need to be considered when making in-person class options more widely available.
First, as IU makes a transition from online instruction to in-person instruction, it needs to be very deliberate with its planning of classroom spaces. There must be more sections of smaller classes offered, and classes will need to be spaced out to ensure proper sanitation occurs between sessions.
It is absolutely essential that online sections of classes still be offered to students. We often hear this is the new normal, and although many are still grieving some of the luxuries we lost from before the pandemic, there are many others who fear for their health and safety when they leave the house.
IU needs to take this into consideration and make sure the transition to in-person instruction allows students to remain in a virtual based learning environment if they choose. They may prefer this option due to personal health issues, being immunocompromised or because they live with high risk family members.
The one major factor in need of consideration is this: The study only focused on the correlation between in-person classes and positivity rate. Once IU has in-person classes, it can mandate proper safety measures in them, but they will have little control over what students will do in their free time. If in-person instruction begins again, even more students will flock to campus, and while classes may be safe, the other activities students participate in might not be.
Although it is disappointing in-person classes are still a long way off for students, the time allows for ample research and planning to promise a safe return to instruction. We should still expect to wear masks and socially distance even after readily available vaccinations, but this will be something everyone is accustomed to. It will be an easy choice for many students who want to return to some sense of normalcy.
The research IU released shows it wants to return to as many in-person classes as possible when it is safe and effective to do so, but we need to remember we are still in a pandemic.
As we enter the coming semesters, there will definitely be frustrations with online learning. But we are heading in the right direction.
Aidan Kramer (she/her) is a freshman studying microbiology and environmental science. After graduating, she plans to attend medical school and pursue a career in pathology.