Emerson, cancel in-person classes immediately

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Media: Lizzie Heintz

A student stands on a social distancing marker inside the Emerson testing center.

By Editorial Board

This week feels like a much-anticipated moment is finally upon us. Emerson went almost three months without seeing a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases. For so long, it felt like we might actually make it through the semester—at least until Thanksgiving break when we go online—with so few cases. It felt like we were just a little safer than we were last April, or over the summer. It felt like the city of Boston was on a commendable path forward. 

That isn’t the case anymore. 

In an effort to mitigate a sharp increase in cases on campus, the college limited access to non-essential buildings, cancelled athletic practices, and banned non-academic gatherings Wednesday afternoon. After seeing positive test results grow from 32 to 44 in just one day, administrators almost immediately sent out an email announcing the changes. Their efforts to keep the community safe are welcome—and necessary. 

But limited gatherings and group meetings aren’t going to stop a virus that aggressively jumps from person to person. Closing the gym and restricting capacity in the Dining Hall won’t slow a worldwide pandemic that’s taken almost 250,000 lives in the U.S. We have to revert to our springtime quarantine ways. We have to once again rely on take-out for meals and Zoom chats with friends for socialization. 

And administrators, you have to cancel in-person classes, and you have to do so immediately. No amount of bureaucratic hoops are too many to jump through to save a life. The time has come for real, bold leadership. The community needs you to rise to the occasion. Failures in this critical time will not be correctable in the form of performative statements on theatre signs and social media.  

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Emerson should opt to have the last week of in-person learning remotely as soon as possible.  In fact, administrators should enforce this rule until we once again live in a country where it’s safe to get together with your family, go out to eat, or even go to the grocery store. Until that fateful day arrives, it’s a disservice—and a dangerous decision—to tell students, faculty, and staff to come to campus and engage in courses they could have attended online.  

It’s arguable that for many students and faculty, classes are the longest period of time they are exposed to people they don’t usually mingle with. Sure, they’re masked and socially distanced. Some scrounge up enough wipes to clean their small, black tabletops before lectures begin. Others pull out mini-bottles of hand sanitizers from their backpacks before typing notes on their laptop. Everyone sits in desks placed barely six feet apart while squinting at white boards and listening to their muffled instructors at the front of the class. Still, all it takes for this virus to spread is one unhealthy person. One wayward cough. One instance of accidental exposure. And with our first uptick in cases spawning amid a nationwide second wave, it’s safe to say that cases on campus will increase, rather than go in the opposite direction.

Outside of Emerson, cases in Massachusetts have increased alarmingly throughout the past month, almost reaching record high numbers we haven’t seen since April. In the past three days, daily case counts have risen from 1,967 reported on Monday to 2,744 reported today. Within Boston alone, there are more than 3,400 active cases, according to numbers from the city government.

We know there’s less than a week of in-person instruction left. Soon all students will once again be attending classes exclusively through Zoom, to the dismay of community members who miss what the educational experience used to be just months ago. As such, many professors have set up their curriculums around final presentations, group discussions, and activities that benefit from people being in the same space. But that fact alone does not justify putting thousands of us at risk.

The virus is here in our community. It’s spreading. It’s not some kind of far-off threat. The moment to take every single precaution we can take is right now—before we send thousands of students home to their families for Thanksgiving. 

It’s about to be too late. It’s the responsibility of the college to act before it is.