COVID-19 is still running rampant through the United States, at higher levels than in the initial peak. So why am I OK with going back to in-person teaching?
Plot of daily COVID-19 deaths in the USA versus time.
Fall 2020 semester
In the Fall semester, the university had a state aim of keeping to in-person classes until the Thanksgiving break, and then moving to remote learning only (apart from required clinical in-person work) until the end of the semester.
The university reported cases of COVID on a regular basis: initially it was weekly, but this reverted to more frequent updates. This was reported on their COVID-19 status page. A snapshot of the cases reported on campus is shown in the figure below.
Fairfield cases of COVID-19 in the Fall 2020 semester.
The university was very active in limiting the interaction of positive-testing student and staff with others, and several dorms and off-campus living areas were locked down when any member of the group tested positive.
As can be seen from the plot, the number of cases started falling before the Thanksgiving break which started on November 21st because many students started returning home before the official break.
My last in-person lecture in the Fall, on November 20th had just one student in-class. Because the room I was allocated was not large enough for proper social distancing, I had split the class in two and asked half to come in-person to my Tuesday class and the other half to come in-person to my Friday class for the same section. That particular student probably shouldn’t have been there as they’d been a Tuesday student, but I knew attendance would be low and told them it was OK for them to attend.
I was grateful that they were there.
What I wore on the last day of in-person classes in the Fall of 2020.
Spring 2021 semester
The university started the semester a little later than normal, and only to remote classes for the first two or three weeks. Last week, they opened the campus up to in-person classes.
Students in the room
This semester, I have three sections with a maximum of 18 students per section, for a total of 50 students. The room I’ve been allocated has enough COVID-safe seating spots for 15 students, but I have at least 4 or 5 students per section who have opted for remote-only classes this semester. That means each section will have a safe number of students in the room at any one time.
As I wrote back in January, dealing with a mix of in-person and remote students has proved a challenge, but the changes I’ve made to cope with COVID will stick with my teaching after it’s less of an issue.
Last semester, the university just used the LiveSafe app that required everyone to self-report their symptoms or lack there of and show the result of the reporting upon entry.
A new thing this semester that Fairfield has introduced is the use of the Stag ID (identity) card upon entry to the campus. And if the person entering has not had a negative COVID-19 test in the last week, they will be denied entry to campus.
The university is providing free tests on Sunday through Tuesday, so it’s not much of a burden to be tested weekly.
Currently,the status page linked to above has a low number of cases. For now, I am happy to resume in-person teaching given that the regime in place now is stricter than it was in the Fall. I’ll be monitoring the numbers on the COVID status page, and have the option of going to remote should the case levels increase.
On Friday, I had my first in-person class. For reasons completely unrelated to the pandemic, it did not go well: the campus network was completely offline. However, I reverted to whiteboard and markers, so at least the few students who were there did not miss out. Unfortunately, 75% or so of the students tried to connect via Zoom, but because of the network issues we were unsuccessful in connecting.
Today, with the freezing rain, I’ve decided that the journey to campus will be too dangerous, and have taken the option for remote learning.
Hopefully Friday’s class will be in-person again, and the network will be better.