More on this petition:
We are writing to express our deep concerns about the University of Michigan’s (UM) reopening plans, and to ask that UM reverse course and adopt an online-only learning model for at least this coming semester. In our opinion, UM is on a path to creating a predictable and entirely preventable disaster, which will not only impact the university’s students, faculty, and staff, but all of Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan. UM asserts that the reopening plans are safe and informed by guidance from the CDC, the State of Michigan, and UM’s public health experts. However, while these guidelines, such as social distancing and mask requirements, can help to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, there are numerous uncontrollable factors that will inevitably amplify the already widespread community infection. For example, students living in UM housing are asked to quarantine for 14 days prior to arriving on campus (other students are not even asked to quarantine). But after the quarantine period, thousands of students will travel by plane from all corners of the world, including from the global epicenters of Covid-19 in the US and elsewhere. It is inevitable that many will become infected with SARS-CoV-2 on the way to Michigan, and even if they are tested upon arrival, the test may not detect the infection if it’s conducted less than 5 days post-exposure. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that UM students are any different from other young people across the nation who have been routinely ignoring public health guidelines and driving the spread of the virus. Expecting that guidance from the university will prevent young students from holding large indoor parties with no masks or social distancing is unrealistic. A single house-party in Saline recently caused at least 43 infections (without counting the ripple effect from those who have passed on the infection). Inviting the students back to campus means parties like this will be a regular occurrence in Ann Arbor. Even with masks and social distancing, congregating indoors for in-person classes will further drive up the infection rate. The classrooms at UM are poorly ventilated and utilize air conditioning, which has been shown to help the virus travel much further than the universally accepted ‘6-foot rule’. Spending numerous hours per week indoors with different people, even with all the safety measures in place, is far from safe. All of the factors listed above compound one another. Students will arrive on campus infected and spread the virus very quickly as they gather indoors for in-person classes, parties, and both on- and off-campus dining spaces. As has been the case throughout this pandemic, it will be vulnerable populations, particularly people of color and of lower economic status, who will bear the brunt of the inevitable surge in infection rates. And with the growing number of studies that demonstrate potential long-term effects even in young people who were initially asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, allowing a preventable surge in infection rates is a gamble on many people’s long-term health. Covid-19 cases are already trending up in Michigan. Gerry Anderson, the chairman of the Michigan Economic Recovery Council, said on July 25th that reverting to phase 3, in which in-person education is prohibited, is “probably inevitable”. If this doesn’t happen before the start of the fall semester, the arrival of 46,000 students on campus will surely drive the case numbers up to the point where there will be no choice, and the university will be forced to discontinue in-person classes anyway. In this predictable scenario, many people will have lost their lives or will suffer long-term health consequences, for an unnecessary experiment that was doomed from the start, and UM will lose the trust of the community and become perceived as an institution that values its bottom line over the well-being of the local residents. Unlike in past pandemics of this magnitude, we are not forced to choose between education and the health of our community. The internet is an unprecedented tool that allows us to teach and learn while preventing the spread of the virus. It is not optimal, but it’s far better than the alternative. Shifting course sequences to focus on topics that can be efficiently taught online for the next semester or two, until vaccines and therapeutics make in-person learning much safer, is doable in the vast majority of cases, and there’s no reason for it not to be done. If Harvard and other universities can make the shift to online-only learning, there is no reason UM cannot do this. Otherwise, Florida and Texas will be our future.