Letter to the Editor: Is It Truly Safe To Reopen In-Person Classes This Fall?


(Banner welcoming students living on campus to the University of Utah in Aug. 2014 | Chronicle archives)

By Aarushi Rohaj


On March 11, 2020, the University of Utah announced its closure for the rest of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chaos and questions erupted within every students’ mind. Will classes be online? How will we take exams? How will grades be established? Do I need to move out of my dorm? The University hastily put their plan together and answered these questions for the students. However, there are new questions now: Will the University of Utah open in the fall? Will it be safe? Will there be a spike in cases if we go back?

In the last few months, the University has released potential plans as to how they will reopen campus and have in-person classes in the fall. Although the University leadership states that the return will be gradual and will occur under strict safety measures, many students are not convinced that this is the smartest idea. After speaking with various University of Utah students through text, phone calls, and zoom, I found that most students are quite fearful of the reopening process.

Sahana Kargi, a second-year student at the U, told me about her health fears of reopening. “I’m nervous. Getting the usual cold during the semester is difficult enough. Getting infected is not only a risk in itself, but it could affect our ability to succeed in classes. I at least wish there was an option for those of us who are worried to have a fully online semester or some other arrangement.”

Kristina Guzman, a marketing major and a media studies minor, also described her concerns to me. “I’m very worried. I honestly feel safer in my home state because I know the regulation for masks and social distancing are a lot stricter here. I think it’s going to be more dangerous living in an apartment building where we all use the same laundry facilities, elevators and common areas.”

COVID-19 cases are rising every single day in Utah, and many students feel that safety measures such as social distancing are not being properly practiced. Nidhi Ahir, a biology major, told me, “I think reopening is a scary/bold decision. I hope the University takes proper measures to reduce the spread as much as possible, especially because the cases are rising here in Utah every day.” Kylie Ray, a fourth-year chemistry major, told me that she does not believe that it is physically possible to accommodate that many students and that many classes with all safety precautions.

Health and safety precautions aren’t the only stresses that students are undergoing. Jorge Jimenez, a political science student, mentioned to me that a lot of students who pay out of pocket are hesitant about studying this semester because they may not get the full college experience but they will face similar tuition costs.

Abe Christiansen, a Quantitative Analysis of Markets and Organizations major, also expressed his uncertainty to me about the quality of education that will be provided during the fall semester. “Converting classes from in-person to online would not have the same effect because professors have been teaching in person for years. I think it will be very ‘hit or miss’ in terms of how well the professor can adapt the class to an online format.”

Samuel Judd-Kim, a double major in philosophy and organ performance, mentioned his worries about current jobless students. “I worry about all the students who are jobless right now and have been counting on an independent income to pay for their education.” Samuel also said that he believes that it is incredibly risky to reopen due to a spike in cases.

Ethan Parker, a third-year biomedical engineering student, shared his thoughts with me about reopening with an international student base. “A part of me worries about how international the student population is, and how that could potentially introduce a resurgence either from those coming from other countries or more likely a mutated corona pathogen going from here to where they’re coming from in the winter when they go back home. I think there’s no way that a school as diverse at the U can possibly safely open its entire student body.”

There are many reasons why University of Utah students are fearful about reopening in the fall, but at the same time, a part of us wants to get back to our normal lives. There is a lot of stress, fear, uncertainty and anxiety during this time, but it is also very important to remain positive and optimistic. If we all work together as a community by taking every safety measure needed it is possible that we will be successful in the campus reopening process. But still, I believe that is crucial that we as a community re-address the hard question: Is it truly safe to reopen in-person classes during fall 2020?

— Aarushi Rohaj, student at the University of Utah

Submit a letter to the editor