We’re back in Charlottesville and the inevitable has happened. Despite high rates of COVID-19 vaccinations for students and faculties, the virus continues to spread. With the infectious character of the omicron variant – which spreads approx 2.7 to 3.7 times faster than the delta variant – it is likely that more students and faculties will be infected. The question is not whether the virus will continue to spread, but how we will deal with it.
The university has consistently shown a lack of preparedness when it comes to COVID-19 precautions. The plan was to move on to a completely personal semester with the addition of a boostershot requirement – later repealed after Attorney General Miyares issued a legal opinion on the case. While the university administration’s determination is admirable in their efforts to keep this spring as close to normal as possible, there is a clear lack of foresight in the steps to be taken when students inevitably get the virus – starting with the lack of online teaching opportunities.
If a student is infected, they should isolate for at least five days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the big scheme of college classes, five days can be harmful. If isolation occurs during the school week, there is an opportunity to miss a full five days of teaching, which puts a student incredibly behind in their courses. While some professors have added course recordings to their U.Va. Collaboration pages and implemented protocols to support students if they become infected, there is no standardized method of dealing with COVID-19 infections and exposures.
During the winter holidays, I had coffee with a friend who is going to another university. I expressed my concern about being exposed to the omicron variant – as I did not want to miss out on teaching or activities – given that everything would be personal. She did not feel the same level of concern – her school automatically records every class and lecture and uploads them to their student portal so students who test positive can stay up to date. There are high-tech cameras in each classroom that can be set to start recording at certain times during the day and then upload these recordings directly to the cloud for student use. Although the system itself at her university – with its advanced technological systems – may not be feasible here, the idea is absolutely achievable.
If we are to remain personal for the rest of the semester, it follows logically that we should have a backup plan for when students will inevitably incur COVID-19. The administration should draw up a plan to ensure that students do not fall behind with their courses due to the pandemic – all classes must either be admitted and uploaded to Collab, or there must be a Zoom option for students who cannot attend in person. Preferably, a busy opportunity will allow students to watch the lectures or classes at their own pace and convenience, especially if they need time to rest while infected. For seminars or discussion-based classes, alternative arrangements should allow students to capture the nature of the discussion if they are unable to attend in person. This could take the form of detailed notes or perhaps online discussion forums where students can write their opinions on course material, which can then be shared with the class even though they may not be physically present.
Some professors have already taken these steps, but many have not. Currently, the professor-by-professor approach means that some students are able to keep up with their courses while others are not. Having a standardized plan that requires all professors to create an alternative option will level the playing field and allow all students to stay up to date on their courses even if they incur COVID-19. To balance the academic environment and ensure that all students have a chance at success, administrators must set up an academic procedure for virtual courses in the wake of the continuing pandemic.
Hailey Robbins is the opinion writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be contacted at [email protected]
The opinions in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors only.