Last week came a warning that the coronavirus pandemic poses an "existential threat" to US colleges and universities. It's no exaggeration, writes Brown President Christina Paxson in a New York Times op-ed. If colleges cannot reopen in the fall, "it's not a question of whether institutions will be forced to permanently close, it’s how many," she writes. The economics are pretty simple: If campuses remain closed in September, schools might lose half their revenue for the year, a "catastrophic" outcome not just for schools but for students and the nation as a whole. Paxson, though, argues that campuses can reopen in the fall, and she lays out her plan in the op-ed. "Institutions should develop public health plans now that build on three basic elements of controlling the spread of infection: test, trace and separate."
Testing is the cornerstone. Rapid tests must be available for students with symptoms, but all students should be tested multiple times in the year. After that, traditional tracing of contacts isn't good enough for the unique challenges of campuses, but better technology, including mobile apps, can help. As for separation, schools might have to pay for infected students to be isolated in hotel rooms or other places, which would be "costly, but necessary." This "heavy-handed" approach will not sit well with all, especially with regard to civil liberty concerns. But "in my view, if this is what it takes to safely reopen our campuses, and provided that students’ privacy is scrupulously protected, it is worthwhile," writes Paxson. (Read her full op-ed.)