by Giselle Wu
November 23, 2020
I believe that BUA should follow BU in modifying school breaks to try to limit mid-semester travel. Such a discussion has become relevant recently. We’re already more than halfway through the fall semester, and school breaks are approaching quickly — Thanksgiving break and winter break are two to look forward to in the coming months. BUA is so far doing a great job of providing an enjoyable learning environment for students while ensuring their health and safety. But is it safe to allow students to return to school in the few weeks between Thanksgiving and winter recess? Surely precautions such as staying home and not traveling to see extended family are necessary at the very least.
As scientists and experts predicted, coronavirus cases are rising across America, and we are in the midst of a surge ourselves in Massachusetts. The state’s COVID-19 trends are headed “in the wrong direction and show no sign of changing,” says Governor Charlie Baker. The number of new cases daily has increased nearly sixfold from September, going from 460 new case counts per day to 2,648 per day. In just the week of November 16, Massachusetts reported two consecutive days with a daily total of over 2,500 new cases: there were 2,660 new cases on November 11 and 2,648 new cases on November 12. In light of the significant increase in new cases in Massachusetts, we need to consider whether it is still sensible to allow students to come back to in-person school after Thanksgiving break without taking heightened precautions. Over the upcoming break, it is inevitable that some families or close friends might get together and celebrate the holidays, which would lead to an increased risk of transmission in the BUA community.
BUA has taken some preliminary precautions: following Thanksgiving break, students who have had interactions with people beyond their households are required to “learn and participate in school activities remotely for a full week and have a negative COVID-19 test result from a test administered at BU on or after December 3 before returning to classes,” as stated in the Thanksgiving guidance issued by BUA. And for an indefinite amount of time after Thanksgiving break, all BUA students will be expected to receive coronavirus testing twice per week. By taking these precautionary measures, students are able to continue their studies on campus in a much safer environment.
But while these protocols limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus, they do not prevent unsafe interactions during the holidays. It is not only our duty to provide safe conditions for students in school, but it is also our responsibility to contribute to the safety of local communities, the state, and the country by reducing virus transmission. An effective way to achieve that is to reform school breaks, therefore restricting the majority of travel to one period of time. Similar to what BU has done, BUA can alter its school breaks this year by cancelling spring break and replacing it with one more week of winter break to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Although such an approach would diminish the amount of time that students have to relax in the middle of the semester, the health and safety of the greater community need to take first priority.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report.”