A Typical University Day in the COVID-19 Era.

Students who want to be on campus may find the experience very, very different than they expected.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I am generally skeptical of efforts to resume classes on campus in the fall. I don't think Universities can expect students to strictly conform to social distancing guidance. Nor do I think that Universities have the capacity to plan for a complicated transition in the span of months. But let's say that Universities figure it out, and invite students back to class in the fall. What would that an average day look like? I submit that the learning experience will be very, very different than students expect. Let's sketch a typical school day in the COVID-19 era.

Monday morning. You arrive at school. You are given a temperature check at the front entrance. These devices can be unreliable, and instruments have to be calibrated carefully. If you flunk the temperature check, you will not be allowed in the building, and will have to turn around and go home. Even if you were stuck in rush-hour traffic for an hour. And because you have nowhere to go, and have to drive back home, you will miss your class.  Or maybe you try to watch the lecture on your phone in the parking lot. I hope there is good wifi. Too bad if you took public transit to class–it is not possible to answer a question on the subway. At some point, you will have to notify your professor you were absent because you failed the temperature check–even if you are entirely asymptomatic. Attendance records will be a mess.

Next, you finally enter the building. You'll notice that there are stickers on the floor telling you where you can walk, and in what direction. No, you can't hang out in the law school atrium and chat with friends. The student lounge is closed. And seating in the library will be strictly regulated.

Lockers will likely be unavailable. It is dangerous for people to congregate so closely together, and there are are far too many touch-points. So you will have to cary all your books with you. You may decide to bring a roller-board suitcase to carry around your personal library. That decision may prove problematic when you wish to use an elevator. Due to social distancing, only four people can use the elevator at once–everyone will be asked to stand in a corner, and stare at the wall. The lines for elevators will be quite long during class breaks. And people will have to be spaced six-feet apart on the queue. Schools will encourage students to take the stairs–a tough task for those with all of their textbooks. In addition, one staircase will be designated for going up, and another for going down. Don't use the wrong staircase.

Now you get off the elevator. You'll notice more markings on the floor. Traffic will circulate in the hallway, clockwise only. If you see your friend behind you, you can't stop and turn around to chat. No, you have to keep walking till you get your class. But don't miss it. Otherwise, you will be stuck in a never-ending roundabout, like in National Lampoon's European Vacation. Some schools may even hire hall monitors to ensure that traffic flows correctly. Like in Elementary School.

Perhaps you want to use the bathroom before class. You'll find that half the urinals, toilets, and sinks are blocked off. I hope people don't skip hand-washing because sinks are closed. Historically, I've found lines were quite long at bathrooms between classes. Where will the people queue? Hall monitors may hand out restroom passes to ensure people do not congregate. The hallway has to keep moving in a clockwise fashion.

Finally you get to the classroom. One door on the classroom is marked "Enter" and another "Exit." But don't queue around the "Enter" door. That may disrupt the flow of traffic in the hallway. And don't try to sneak into the "Exit" door. That may get you kicked out of the building. If you wait too long, and block the flow of traffic, you may have to take another lap before everyone can enter. Look, there's Big Ben!

You finally make it into the classroom with your books. But where is everyone? In order to space everyone six-feet apart, half of the section is missing. Yes, even if classes are held in-person, a room that usually seats 90 can only seat about 45. Some law schools may shrink the sections for 1L classes. But for everyone else, a significant share of the class will still be home, watching on Zoom. You see, even if classes are "in person," at least half of your law school experience will still be online. There simply is not enough classroom space to keep everyone in the building at once. With a Monday/Tuesday class, for example, half the class will be in person on Monday, and the other half will be in person on Tuesday.

You sit down. Did I forget to mention you have to wear a face mask? Yes, from the moment you walk in the door, you must wear a mask. Don't forget a mask. You may not be able to buy one. And if you take the mask off, a professor may ask you to leave the building, and not come back for fourteen days. Ditto for walking the wrong way in the hallway. Fourteen days. The school will take no steps to ensure students wear masks outside of school–for example on the bus or at a restaurant. Honor system. But in the building, mask mandates will be strictly enforced.

Before you take out your laptop, you have to wipe down your desk with a sanitizing wipe. You can't be certain how recently the room was cleaned. But don't get up to throw out the wipe. Everyone would rush the garbage cans at the same time! You'll have to keep your trash with you till the end of the day. And do you plug in your laptop? The cord and outlet create additional touch points to clean. And don't even think of sharing your friend's charger if you forget yours.

Next, you try to talk to the person six-feet away from you, but it is difficult–voices are muffled behind masks. The room is eerily silent. The camaraderie and friendship you remember from last semester has simply vanished. You find yourself chatting with the student next to you using the Zoom chat box. It's like you're at home!

A few minutes after class is scheduled to start, the Professor walks in. Do you really think the Professor will amble about while everyone is clogged in the hallway? Nope. The Professor enters, quietly, and doesn't stop to chat with anyone. He walks right to the podium, which is behind a huge piece of plexiglass. Yes, like at the bank or the post office. That plexiglass will ensure there is a physical separation between the professor and the students.

And don't forget that half the class is still on Zoom. The professor may have to turn around to look at the projector–with his back to you–to see everyone. And you are still going to have to watch the Brady-Bunch grid of 40-odd students. Plus, since the screen may be quite far from you, it will be impossible to make out the faces of so many tiny, little squares. If you try to watch Zoom on your own laptop, you will not have enough screen space for your notes. Don't think of bringing a second display!

Class begins, and the professors asks a question. You begin to answer. The professor says "speak up, I can't hear you." You reply, "I'm sorry, it is hard to speak loud with the mask on." And that dialogue repeats over and over. Generally, the professor could walk closer to a low-talking student–I do so all the time. But now, with social distancing, the professor cannot escape his plexiglass fortress of solitude. And don't even think about passing a wireless microphone around the room. Too many touch points. Students sitting in the back of cavernous, empty lecture halls will not be heard. And don't expect students up front to relinquish their cushy seats. Because class participation becomes difficult, professors stop asking questions and start lecturing. (Lectures can be given just as effectively online with Zoom.)

During class, one student gets thirsty. She takes out a bottle of water, removes her mask, and takes a sip. Another student gets hungry, removes his mask, and starts snacking. Particles in the air! Another student starts to sneeze–allergies he says. Yeah right. Another student coughs when water goes down the wrong pipe–excuses. The professor doesn't notice, but students nearby panic. There will then be a class disruption. Perhaps the offending students will be asked to leave–they broke the rules.

Finally, the sterile, artificial, and stilted class draws to a close. Actually it finishes ten minutes early. The school added more time to ensure people can safely exit the classroom. But, there is even less time to learn. Still, everyone rushes for the exit door at once! Maybe students can exit the classroom, row-by-row, like on an airplane!

Generally, after class students would congregate around the podium to asks questions. There is that one thing that needs clarification! Nope. The professors will quickly exit the room–he or she will not wait for the students to clog the exit door. Maybe professors in at-risk groups will have designated elevators?

Can you go up to the professor's office to visit one-on-one? Nope. Office hours will be conducted by Zoom, even if the professor is on campus.

May I remind you that you are expected to wear your mask, nonstop, for about 6 hours at a time? Maybe you go for a walk outside to get some fresh air. In that case, you have to go through the temperature check, and the entire process from scratch. I hope your forehead doesn't get warm after some moderate exercise on a hot, August day.

Can you seek some refuge in the library? It will be tough. Most of the carrells will be blocked off, and reading rooms will be reserved for smaller-sized classes. The stacks will be very congested. Law schools were not designed for this function. Forget about meeting in study groups. There simply will not be enough space on campus to do so.  There's always Starbucks.

At the end of the day, you'll go home. The following day, you will take your classes on Zoom. You will experience the exact same pedagogy from your professor, but will not have to engage in any of these social distancing protocols. Soon, you realize that you would rather learn on Zoom, rather than comply with Draconian half-measures. Maybe your school will let you opt out of in-person classes. Maybe the school will require you to attend half of your classes in-person. Sigh, on Wednesday, the process starts all over again.

Oh, and did I mention that come October, your city issues another Corona lockdown order? The building closes immediately, and all classes finish up on Zoom. At least you couldn't leave anything behind in your locker.

This post was written somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But I hope it conveys a point. Nostalgia for "in-person" classes may distort judgments about what this experience will look like in the fall. Things will not go back to normal. Professors and administrators should explain these dynamics to jittery students, who may demand a service they actually will not like. Learning is tough enough under normal circumstances. These measures will make that process even more difficult.

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  1. Or we could do like we did during the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu epidemic.

    1. What did we do? There are no survivors to tell us; everyone died off.

  2. Three strategies for dealing with the virus
    1) Continued efforts to contain the virus, lockdowns etc. – that aint going to work since the virus is too deeply embedded in the general population and people have to exist – live and work etc
    2) Hunker down and hide until a vaccine is developed – That aint going to work since the vaccine wont be ready for 1-2 years out
    3) Allow the general population to develop a level of immunity so that it is naturally controlled.

    1. Social distancing isn’t about containment, it’s about slowing the spread.
      And we can begin something like opening up once we get testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place, which despite Trump’s mission accomplished speech is nowhere near happening yet.

      Herd immunity will inevitably happen. Having it happen sooner will just risk a higher number of deaths before it does

      1. “Herd immunity will inevitably happen. Having it happen sooner will just risk a higher number of deaths before it does”

        Possibly more deaths in the very short term, but Most likely the same number of deaths or fewer deaths in the mid term to long term. Getting a larger % of the population with immunity during the summer when viruses are typically weaker and when the viral loads being transmitted from infected persons are lower, reduces the risk of a second wave being nastier when the second wave hits in the fall.

        Continued containment via social distancing, etc simply isnt a long term viable option given human nature.

        1. during the summer when viruses are typically weaker

          Are you just making this up or getting it from somewhere?

          Look up why flu season is in the winter; it’s 1) not because the flu virus is weaker in the summer, and 2) may not be generalizable to the more virulent COVID.

          1. Why don’t you explain it for us genius, why flu season is in the summer, and why the transmission rates are higher in the winter.

            I’ll be interested to know how you screw up the answer. And how you can’t generalize it to COVID based on available information.

            1. (Edit, Flu season in the winter).

            2. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2014/the-reason-for-the-season-why-flu-strikes-in-winter/

              Moreover, Covid is more virulent, so you won’t regularly get below R0 in the summer as you do with the flu.

              Trump thought Covid would be seasonal, and over by April. He was wrong. You’re arguing the same thing in freaking May.

              1. Ha! I ask you to explain something in the hopes that actually you actually explaining it would make you realize how you’re incorrect.

                And what do you do? Post a link. A link that you clearly didn’t read, that shows how the flu is weaker in the summer… In correct contradiction to your earlier post

                “Look up why flu season is in the winter; it’s 1) not because the flu virus is weaker in the summer”

                Here’s a big hint from your linked article ” The Flu Likes Cold, Dry Weather”

                1. What’s wrong with you today?

                  From the paper, about WHY the flu likes cold, dry weather. Nut: It’s not because the virus is weaker.

                  A common misconception is that the flu is caused by cold temperatures. However, the influenza virus is necessary to have the flu, so cold temperatures can only be a contributing factor. In fact, some people have argued that it is not cold temperatures that make the flu more common in the winter. Rather, they attest that the lack of sunlight or the different lifestyles people lead in winter months are the primary contributing factors. Here are the most popular theories about why the flu strikes in winter:

                  1) During the winter, people spend more time indoors with the windows sealed, so they are more likely to breathe the same air as someone who has the flu and thus contract the virus (3).

                  2) Days are shorter during the winter, and lack of sunlight leads to low levels of vitamin D and melatonin, both of which require sunlight for their generation. This compromises our immune systems, which in turn decreases ability to fight the virus (3).

                  3) The influenza virus may survive better in colder, drier climates, and therefore be able to infect more people (3).

                  1. Sarcastro: “From the paper, about WHY the flu likes cold, dry weather. Nut: It’s not because the virus is weaker.”

                    Paper: “3) The influenza virus may survive better in colder, drier climates, and therefore be able to infect more people (3).”

                    Reading Comprehension 101. The virus survives better in the winter, and survives worse (AKA is weaker) in the summer.

            3. From the CDC website –

              Will the United States have a flu epidemic?

              The United States experiences annual epidemics of seasonal flu. This time of year is called “flu season.” In the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. Flu activity often begins to increase in October and November. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, and it can last as late as May. CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (for example, outpatient visits of influenza-like illness (ILI), the results of laboratory testing and reports of flu hospitalizations and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, “flu season” is said to have begun. Usually ILI increases first, followed by an increase in flu-associated hospitalizations, which is then followed by increases in flu-associated deaths.

              For the most current flu surveillance information: Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report.

              1. I didn’t dispute that the flu is seasonal, Joe.

                I dispute that this would translate to Covid.

                1. Almost every other respiratory disease, whether common cold,
                  SARS, MERS, etc. is seasonal like flu.

                  One of the primary issues is that during colder temps, people are more likely to stay indoors rather than outside; as well as most modern buildings are very airtight thereby recycling the air with potential diseases unless one has an expensive filtration system.

                  1. I agree with your second paragraph, but not your first.

                    See my post above: https://reason.com/2020/05/22/what-would-in-person-classes-look-like-in-the-fall/#comment-8265249

                    1. Okay – “Weaker ” may have been too broad of a term – Viral loads being transmitted during the summer tend to be much lower and therefore for the newly infected, their imune system is better able to fight the infection off. Hence the broad term “weaker” during the summer.

                      The added benefit is the newly infected person more easily overcoming the viral infection and with he/she developing immunity. Also the reason to encourage / relax restrictions early. Delaying the development of immunity until later only increases the risks of a nasty second wave in the fall with the likely result of higher death tolls

      2. Why do we want to slow the spread? Are you alluding to the “flattening the curve” canard we were all sold? Our hospital system was never overwhelmed despite the delay in locking down. Also, college students are an excellent example of the type of cohort we should want to become infected. The vast, vast majority of this cohort will not require any type of hospitalization. As far as testing and contact tracing are concerned, testing would have to be done universally about once a week. Do you see that as remotely feasible? In the absence of universal weekly testing, contact tracing is next to useless given the long incubation time and sheer volume of asymptomatic cases makes this mostly useless. Note that all of the nations that were praised for early testing and contract tracing are now seeing a significant reemergence of cases. If this is about protecting the students, it’s a fools errand. If it’s about protecting the non-students on campus, then a different approach to total campus shutdowns is required.

        1. Yeah, we were originally worried about hospitals getting overwhelmed.

          Now we want to implement testing and social distancing to minimize the infections until we get a treatment or vaccine. That shouldn’t be a lockdown, except we’ve borked our testing infrastructure, so for now it is.

          The point of contact tracing is that you don’t need universal testing – you need only test those who fall contact with someone who tested positive to get a pretty good sense of who has the virus.

          You don’t want young people to get infected; 1) they are interacting with more susceptible people, and 2) lower chance of death is still a chance of death. If it’s not needed, I don’t see why we want it.

          You know what’s a painless way to get herd immunity? A vaccine.

          1. So you concede in moving the goalposts.

      3. You Seem to be confused about the concept of flattening the curve.
        The area under the curve is the same no matter what the shape of the curve.
        There is nothing anyone can do to lower the number of illnesses or deaths from coronavirus.
        The same number of people are going to get coronavirus, and the same number will die of it no matter what tactics are used.
        All the quarantining and social isolation is meant to spread the number of cases out over time.
        That was meant to prevent the hospitals from being completely filled with coronavirus patients in forcing the heart attack and appendicitis patience to die in the parking lot for lack of beds.
        I repeat. The same number of people are going to die of coronavirus whether we do social distancing or not

        1. There is nothing anyone can do to lower the number of illnesses or deaths from coronavirus.

          I mean, that’s obviously wrong, We could develop a vaccine, or a treatment.

          1. Pretty unlikely in the next three months, though. Hopefully hospitals are getting better at treating bad cases

      4. “slowing the spread” was accomplished almost everywhere two months ago. And we now know that the risk to college-aged students is exceedingly low (although many of the professors…). As of last week, 76 people aged 15-24 are recorded to have died from it in the whole country.

        So if we can seal off everyone over 40 in a bubble, no real reason to change much of anything. Not that I know how to do that, practically speaking

  3. Gosh, you are so gloomy! Getting into the building is easy! Just hold a small ice bag briefly against your forehead. Works great!

    1. Or pop Tylenol, Advil, etc. about a half hour before heading to class.

  4. Law school is unique (at least currently) because it is an absolute requirement for entry to a profession, and if law schools required students to attend naked — to walk through blizzards naked — there would be students who want to be lawyers badly enough to do even that.

    But as to higher education in general, there are going to be a LOT of students who are going to say “Fire Truck This” with five fewer letters. The coddled Gen Z, who have the same expectations of the Millennials, are not going to put up with it.

    And I’m not so sure about law students either — enrollment was already dropping and as an educator, I can tell you that the Kabuki Theater described above is going to lead to a lot of student failures. If you are flunking out, you don’t care anymore and that can lead to a volatile situation, moreso if you are told that you are a member of an oppressed group.

    This could get really ugly really fast…

  5. OR….

    Students come to campus in the fall. They move into their dorms. The social distancing “rules” are relaxed, such that attempts are made, but aren’t really enforced. The “6 foot limit” in grocery stores really doesn’t exist at all times right now. It gets dropped further.

    You see more students wearing masks, but that rule is slowly dropped as well. Small group studies continue as normal, within the dorms, the meeting rooms, or outside. The relative risk is minimal within the typical age group.

    Susceptible populations are allowed to zoom into the meetings, and communicate by conference call.

    Certain Universities move entirely to “online only” education. . These students don’t have the benefit of small group meetings or in person meetings with professors, and you see education within these students suffer. A certain subset suffer more dramatically and disconnect from the learning, not quite dropping out, but nor really there either.

    Students ask why they’re paying high-priced tuition for a series of online classes that the University of Phoenix can just as easily offer. Employers look at the students coming out of the “online-learning only” group from the mid-tier universities, and realize the education within this group is lacking. Jobs aren’t offered.

    1. This reads like someone who has read nothing from the scientific community about pandemics.

      Or someone who is fine with a 1% worldwide death rate as a price to pay to get haircuts again.

      1. Or someone who is fine with a 1% worldwide death rate

        If you want people to take you seriously, shouldn’t you at least try to update your cut-and-paste scary statistics every month or two?

        If you don’t…. well, carry on.

        1. I update my numbers based on the latest info I’m reading. If you have different information to offer, please feel free to add it.

          If you just want to denigrate my number without offering an alternative, that will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered.

          1. CDC’s updated predicted death rate (not of the whole population, just the infected) is 0.26%. 1% is wildly out of date.

      2. You know, you sound like an idiot, especially when you used phrases like “Social distancing isn’t about containment, it’s about slowing the spread” in the same overall post.

        I’ll let you figure out the inherent contradiction between your two statements. Or, if you’re still too dim, I can explain it to you.

        1. You don’t appear to know what containment means, then?

          I don’t know that you’re doing Joe_dallas any favors – if you’re interpreting him to be saying that *slowing the spread* is impossible, that’s just cockamamie.

          1. Yep, you’re too dim. Clearly you don’t understand the problem you have understanding epidemics and viruses.

            You should ask for help.

      3. Seeing liberals gnash teeth over the value of human life is funny.

        Sarcastro – so you agree that a 1% death rate for the mere inconvenience of staying inside for months on the end is worth it.

        How about acknowledging the same for abortion there buddy. Really it is a mere inconvenience for a woman to take a child to full term instead of murdering it. But, I doubt your value on life equation carries through that far.

    2. “Students ask why they’re paying high-priced tuition for a series of online classes that the University of Phoenix can just as easily offer. Employers look at the students coming out of the “online-learning only” group from the mid-tier universities, and realize the education within this group is lacking.”

      OR…

      Students stop paying high prices and take online classes, and the cost of education drops dramatically. Students no longer need to go to universities at all, and can work and take online classes in their spare time. They have conversations with more experienced co-workers instead of professors. Employers look at “online-only” students and say, hey, this guy has four years experience with this company in addition to learning stuff on-line, he can probably handle more responsibility. And we better offer him more money if we want to keep him…

      1. Conservatives’ disdain for legitimate education is one of the reasons I am most grateful conservatives have lost the culture war.

        Well, that and the bigotry.

        1. Yeah, online education is the past.

        2. “legitimate eduction”….like a university provides any degree of that.

      2. That’s a bit of a switch from “online-only students” to “online only students PLUS 4 years of work-study from when they were working”.

        Speaking frankly, it typically doesn’t work as well as you would expect, working while taking classes simultaneously. If the demands aren’t especially severe, either in the classwork or the job, it can work. But usually, it’s a low intensity job, plus roughly a half load of hard classes, or a medium intensity job and a few (1, maybe 2) low/medium intensity classes.

        1. It’s a lot easier if you do it online at your convince.

        2. There are pros and cons to online college education. I’ve done both on campus and online. The biggest issue with online is it relies on the student to take personal responsibility and self motivation. Online graduates are no better nor worse that their on-campus cohort with the exception of making contacts and having personal/face-to-face interaction.

      3. ” And we better offer him more money if we want to keep him…”

        Companies (and universities) usually do the opposite.

    3. I see the alternative result as employers look at the two groups of students and see that the education is exactly the same.
      This causes more students to opt for online only instruction.
      What would be the point of paying so much extra for the on-campus experience, if it turns out the on-campus experience offers no benefit

  6. These threads continue to be quite a study of the contrarian.

    As the possibility of minimizing the number or positing a conspiracy among the liberal governors shrinks, I’m liking the trend in people explaining how epidemics work and are combated based on what appears to be their own intuition. And how their own intuition unerringly points to opening up asap.

    We’ve seen a similar trend in how their own Constitutional sense is the only thing anyone should be listening to, and somehow that also always comports with their often contrarian view of how America should work.

  7. (a) the OP doesn’t sound so terrible, what’s the problem? (“did I forget to say *you have to wear a mask*?” the horror! the horror!)

    (b) for colleges where students reside on campus, this seems much preferable to continuing with a pure on-line curriculum.

    (c) restrictions might have to be re-imposed at a moment’s notice? OK. What’s the problem?

  8. This would seem to be a very good time to move more instruction to the Oxford tutorial model. Easy to appropriately mask, or distance, or virtualize, based on the local contagion level. The student reads a paper that usually begins by portentously announcing the date of the subject’s birth, the professor feigns interest, and then there’s a bit of a chat.

    So, you know, when 500 students show up at your lecture hall in August, just tell them to go to Oxford.

    Mr. D.

  9. The truth of the matter is we don’t know what the future is going to hold as far as Covid goes. It could mutate into different strains and elude a vaccine. It could go “dormant” and fade away like some viruses do either on a seasonal basis or just completely. It could become more lethal. Or it could just become a new illness that becomes “background noise”.

    Sitting around and pretending like we know what is going to happen is pretty useless. Even the “models” proposed by “scientists” haven’t been all that accurate. Remember back in March when we were told 70% of Americans were going to be infected, hospitals overrun, and dead bodies in the streets? Well….what happened there?

    Short term quarantines are good public health policy. Pretending like we can just hide from the big bad wolf forever is a horrible public policy. Avoiding “super spreader” type events is a good public policy. Shutting down the economy is not necessary to do that. But in the end the only way we might be able to get through this is just like how humans have got through every other pandemic in the course of history. Develop herd immunity, do what you can to triage sick people, and move on with your life.

  10. “Attendance records will be a mess.” I went to college 40 years ago. Do colleges really take attendance these days? If so, that’s pathetic.

  11. This is not a problem unique to colleges. It will happen in all sorts of businesses and institutions. And the result we can expect is the same in all of them: the public will, and should, declare the new rules “chickenshit” and refuse en masse to cooperate with them.

  12. The simplest solution would be to get rid of “law school,” in whole or in part. Most students switch over to the British approach, where you sign a training contract with a real firm and learn on-the-job.

    To be frank, I’m disappointed we haven’t allowed alternative credentialling already.

    1. Another obvious solution would be to just eliminate the “bore you to death 3L year.” Easy, painless 33% less space needed.

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