COLUMN: CMU classes should be virtual for the first few weeks

From Sunday, Jan. 9 to Thursday, Jan. 13, the first days back for the Spring 2022 semester, Central Michigan University has reported 112 new COVID-19 cases.

According to President Bob Davies in a Jan. 14 email to the campus, CMU has been anticipating this "significant increase." Davies said the increase was expected due to the high transmissibility of the omicron variant and that the university is prepared to manage the associated risks.

The only other time CMU has had 112 cases in a week was the week of Nov. 9, 2020. Following the highest case count for the semester and a state wide order, on Nov. 18 all classes for the rest of the Fall 2020 semester were virtual.

We are currently tied with the highest number of COVID-19 cases ever in a week with two more days waiting to be reported. There is no way we won't break the current record by the time the Friday, Jan. 14 cases are reported.

I understand that during November 2020 we did not have COVID-19 vaccines. Although we have them now and on-campus vaccination rates are at 80 percent, the new variant is highly contagious.

With students traveling back to Mount Pleasant from all over the state, all over the country and from outside of the United States, there is no telling how many students are returning from COVID-19 hotspots. 

How many are bringing the contagious virus with them?

CMU has us attending in-person classes. To make matters worse, most of these courses no longer allow students the ability to socially distance themselves from one another.

During my first in-person course of the semester, I was in a small classroom with about 20 students and a faculty member. The desks were two person tables and there was no way to socially distance. Every other student was no more than 10 feet away from me in the small rectangles. This was the after my professor was able to create while attempting to make the room more "socially distance friendly." 

In addition, the classrooms no longer have disinfectant and hand sanitizer for students to use while entering class.

A vast majority of courses are only offered face to face this semester with no HyFlex options.

Several other universities across Michigan decided to go virtual for the first week or two of the semester, including Michigan State University, Oakland University and Wayne State University.

During the first week of classes during the Spring 2021 semester, CMU had all students attend classes virtually and had only four positive COVID-19 cases.

I understand that the omicron variant of COVID-19 is less severe than the original virus was two years ago, or even last year. However, it happens to be much more contagious, regardless of vaccination status.

In addition, several counties in Michigan happen to be hotspots for the virus such as Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. Out of the 11,707 students enrolled at CMU during the Fall 2020 semester, 3,856 were from those three counties, according to the CMU Fall 2020 enrollment report.

Between myself, my coworkers and my roommates, I have heard of several faculty members canceling class periods or moving virtual for the first day or week due to either them contracting COVID-19 or just the high rates in the state.

As a student, I don’t feel safe in my classes. 

I'm sitting next to strangers who may have been in California or New York last week not following any COVID-19 protocols.

Two weeks ago, a CMU student wrote the petition "A Call for CMU to Prioritize Students Academic Well-Being" to ask President Bob Davies and the Board of Trustees to go virtual for at least the first week. More than 800 people signed the petition before classes started.

The first week is already a loss, but the university can make up for its mistake. However, it doesn't seem like a route Davies is interesting in taking.

"After discussing the benefits and drawbacks of (going virtual) and considering the feedback we have received through phone calls, emails, social media, and petitions representing a wide range of preferences and expertise, we have decided to continue in-person instruction at this time," Davies said in his Jan. 14 email.

CMU should reverse this choice and have all courses virtual next week to allow students who may be infected and asymptomatic by COVID-19 the ability to stay home and not infect others.

I will admit, I absolutely hate online classes. I struggle learning in them. However, I would prefer virtual classes to being exposed to and contracting COVID-19.

I deserve to feel as safe as possible attending my classes. 

Right now, I do not feel safe.