How Many People Will Preventably Die or Get Ill if Universities Hold Classes in Person? – Part 2

This builds on a previous post discussing problems with plans to teach in-person classes in the fall.

Most of this post reproduces a listserv message from TFOI Ben Davis expressing concern about universities’ plans for the fall semester.

Like Ben, I am very alarmed about universities’ plans to hold classes in person considering how the virus is spiraling out of control in the US, unlike most other countries.  Unfortunately, our political leaders in the federal government and many state governments are not taking effective action to control the virus.  Indeed, many of their policies are likely to spread the disease even more.

I assume that university administrators are working overtime, sincerely trying to figure out the best way to deal with this crisis.  I get the financial and institutional fears about not holding classes in person.  Perhaps if I participated in the these deliberations, I would share their perspectives about the wisdom of doing so.

I wonder if their assessments are colored by cognitive, motivational, and social biases leading to overly optimistic perspectives.  I wonder if they are so focused on measures to limit infection on campus that they don’t make realistic assumptions about student behavior off campus.

I wonder if people demanding on-campus instruction have realistic expectations about what the experience will be like, both on campus and off.  I suspect that it would be nothing like the intense social interaction they imagine — at least not if everyone complies with strict public health measures.  There will be great temptation to have the kind of interactions that could put a lot of people at serious risk.

Consider this news story:  “Virus’s Spread in Fraternity Houses Raises Concerns for Campuses Opening this Fall. … “There is not one event, or multiple events, that we can identify as being the repository of this,” said Johnson, who is a senior.  “It just spread from people living in a house, or visiting others in a house to hang out, or even just running into someone at a grocery store. . . . It was truly community spread.”“

Since students probably wouldn’t have the experiences on campus they imagine, here’s a real opportunity to do some problem-solving thinking to safely replicate online the campus social interactions as much as possible.  And it provides the potential side effect of having students focus more on good communication, less tainted by binge drinking and unsafe sex.  Obviously, this wouldn’t be an ideal substitute.  But we’re in a crisis with only more or less bad options.

These decisions not only affect the university communities – they affect everyone.  Infections from students, faculty, and staff ripple out to their communities and everyone who comes in contact with them.  People in the US can’t travel to many other countries without being quarantined.  Similarly, people in some American states can’t travel to other states without being quarantined.  People in many states may have to live with increasingly strict limitations on their behavior.  Continued spread of the virus aggravates our intense political and social conflict.

Some Perspective

We may become numb as we watch the numbers of deaths grow every day.

According to the New York Times, as of July 11, there have been more than 133,000 deaths in the US from Covid-19 in about six months.  This number continues to grow at an alarming rate.  Lately, there have been over 50,000 new confirmed cases and close to 1,000 additional deaths per day.  Today, the Times reported almost 70,000 new cases.

Here’s today’s headline in the Washington Post: “U.S. Death Toll Rises as New Infections Reach Record Levels.  Texas, Arizona and South Carolina have all seen their death toll rise by more than 100 percent in the past four weeks, and experts warn that the trend could continue to get worse.”

Take a moment and let all those numbers sink in.

They are not just numbers.  They are our fellow human beings.

For some perspective, consider the following statistics.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, here are the top six causes of death in the US in 2017.

  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404

In 2018, there were an estimated 36,560 deaths from automobile accidents.

In 2018, there were 16,214 murders and nonnegligent manslaughers the US, according to FBI statistics.

These figures are for entire years, compared with six months of the current pandemic.

As a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001, 2,997 people died.

Here are the number of American military deaths in our six most deadly wars:

  • American Civil War: 655,000 (est.)
  • World War II: 405,399
  • World War I: 116,516
  • Vietnam War: 58,209
  • Korean War: 36,574
  • Revolutionary War: 25,000

Note that these wars each lasted years, compared with only six months of deaths from Covid-19.

Ben’s Post

Dear All, Dear Linda,

The ABA needs to review its February guidance to law schools. It is profoundly outdated.  This is an urgent matter.  Lead, follow or get out of the way.

The ABA, the NBA, the other bars of colors and every school should be supporting the Harvard and MIT lawsuit against DHS and ICE about international students because 1) it is the right thing to do and 2) it is an effort to pressure all schools (including K-12 as international students there are also affected) to go in-person through the lever of the international students.  Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

I get so many things sent to me about this COVID-19 pandemic that I put together this list to share with persons thinking about it.

Here is the one that came out on Tuesday I wrote called the Business of Reopening Colleges and Universities in a Pandemic.

Here is a description of the Harvard and MIT lawsuit against DHS and ICE that came out Wednesday.  Here’s the actual complaint, which breaks it down so clearly.

Here is one I received today about being in the classroom risks by Tim Duane, a great deal to think about there.  I sent that to the Provost and shared with my faculty.

Your faculty and staff are not cannon fodder. Nor are students. Here is one on the magical thinking going on.

Here is another one by our own John Lande,

Here is another one on law school reopenings by William H. Widen, The Only Question for Law School Re-openings, JURIST – Academic Commentary, June 29, 2020.

Here is the Open Letter done to the University of Georgia System – from Graduate Students and Allies.

On working with health departments, here are the kind of guidance games being played in this failure of leadership the example is the meat packing industry – Russian dolls as the policies from the federal government to local government.  This is an analogy that is totally appropriate for the education sector as – just like those workers – in classrooms people are cheek to jowl even with social distancing and masks because once you are there for more than 10-15 minutes – CORONA GETS TO PLAY. Benjamin G. Davis, Worker Endangerment in the Meat Industry During COVID-19, JURIST – Academic Commentary, April 30, 2020

Here is an open letter I sent to Congressional leadership and published when I heard all these colleges and universities were pushing for COVID-19 limitations of liability statutes:  Benjamin G. Davis, An Open Letter to the Congressional Leadership on COVID-19 Limited Liability for Universities, JURIST – Academic Commentary, June 1, 2020.

Here is the human endangerment that is going on being analyzed as a domestic or international crime. Benjamin G. Davis, How Covid-19 Human Endangerment Might Be Approached as a Domestic Crime or an International Crime Against Humanity, JURIST – Academic Commentary, May 20, 2020.

Finally, with testing being so hard to get, and check this with your doctor, here is something I was turned onto this past weekend.  It is called a finger pulse oximeter that is $29.95 on Amazon.  Stick your finger in and it tells you your oxygen rate and your pulse.  Apparently declining oxygen rates can be an early COVID-19 sign when it drops (but call your doctor to get the more exact info on numbers).  I was 96 yesterday which is fine.

Hope that helps. Much love to all of you.



Benjamin G. Davis

Professor of Law

University of Toledo College of Law

10 thoughts on “How Many People Will Preventably Die or Get Ill if Universities Hold Classes in Person? – Part 2”

  1. Teaching online is quite an experience for everyone, but not the same as in-person teaching. A balance must be maintained between two these methods during this health crisis. Not a single solution can fix the problem. We to have rely on individual behavior and wisdom from university administrators to take the right decision at the right time.

    Bashar Malkawi

  2. According to the Washington Post, “[s]everal virus outbreaks have been linked to students returning to college campuses.

    ” At least 40 coronavirus cases have been linked to fraternity row at the University of Southern California. (Los Angeles Times)

    ” Colorado State University suspended football team workouts after eight players tested positive. (Colorado Public Radio)

    ” Preseason football workouts have been halted at Rutgers University after 15 football players tested positive. Authorities blame an on-campus party. (Star-Ledger)

    ” A dozen cases at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., are also blamed on an off-campus social gathering where no masks were worn and students failed to practice social distancing. (Chicago Tribune)

    “School districts across the country are trying to decide how bad an outbreak would have to be to cause them to shut down again. “So far, schools are getting little consensus from federal and state officials on how best to plan,” the Wall Street Journal reports.”

  3. Here’s a column in the Washington Post by William R. Harvey, the president of Hampton University: The Simple Question That Can Help Schools Make Hard Decisions about Covid-19.

    The question: “We will have to ask ourselves ‘Is this safe?’ over and over.”

    He recognizes the desire to hold classes in person but concludes: “I understand how difficult this is, and how badly students and administrators want to find a way to return to normal. Everyone is trying to balance politics, health, safety, finances, a desire for social interaction and a psychological need to get back to ‘normal.’ However, although getting students back to school is important, it is more important to get them back safely. There is no normal until our campuses, workplaces and neighborhoods are safe again.”

  4. Peter H. Huang and Debra S. Austin wrote “Unsafe at Any Campus: Don’t Let Colleges Become the Next Cruise Ships, Nursing Homes, and Food Processing Plants.” Here’s the abstract:

    “The decision to educate our students via in-person or online learning environments while COVID-19 is unrestrained is a false choice, when the clear path to achieve our chief objective safely, the education of our students, can be done online. Our decision-making should be guided by the overriding principle that people matter more than money. We recognize that lost tuition revenue if students delay or defer education is an institutional concern, but we posit that many students and parents would prefer a safer online alternative to riskier in-person options, especially as we get closer to fall, and American death tolls rise. This Essay argues the extra stress of trying to maintain safety from infection with a return to campus will make teaching and learning less effective. While high density classrooms promote virus transmission and potentially super-spreader events, we can take the lessons we learned during the spring, and provide courses without the stressors of spreading the virus. We argue the socially responsible decision is to deliver compassionate, healthy, and first-rate online pedagogy, and we offer a vision of how to move forward into this brave new world.”

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