spring2021covid

When I first wrote about COVID-19’s impact on campus in April, I said that LMU should “not [attempt to] re-open campus until the spring 2021 semester.” I regret being that optimistic.

Five months later, more than 200,000 people total have lost their lives to the American epidemic, over 15,000 in California and over 6,000 in Los Angeles County. We’re well past the best-case scenario of losses laid out in March, and American COVID-19 deaths in the next few months could range anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 if left unchecked.

Meanwhile, universities in California are bracing for a new reality in which a grand majority of students won’t be returning to campus anytime soon. According to The Daily 49er, California State University announced that it won’t be returning to having mainly in-person instruction for the next semester, instead continuing online education for the time being.

UCLA’s four phase program for re-opening says that campus won’t fully reopen “until an effective vaccine or advanced therapeutics have been developed and are available to the majority of the UCLA community.” According to The Daily Bruin, that might mean having immunity for 60-70% of the campus population.

If UCLA and the CSU system aren’t able to get a handle on this virus, what hope does LMU have in reopening campus?

Another problem comes when talking about the rest of LMU’s adjacent community. Our campus is not an enclosed box and never can be. Students who live off campus need to come into campus and grocery runs can’t occur solely in C-stores.

We are a huge part of the Westchester neighborhood and the larger city of L.A., and anything students would do like unnecessarily going out, accidentally forgetting to wear masks or socializing with each other beyond digital means would set back any progress in fighting this virus.

Even if LMU tried to wall itself off from the outside world like it was West Berlin, that still wouldn’t fix the fundamental problem of how the virus spreads. People staying in shared office buildings and U-Hall classrooms with little ventilation could create untraceable clusters of COVID-19 cases that would spread to students, professors, faculty and staff until it painfully burned out, killing and maiming a not insignificant number of people.

If the workaround is to then have students do work in their dorms through distance learning while still having a semi-normal campus, we’ve essentially created a more expensive version of the current semester where students stay home and transmission dies out.

Should all of us stay home as much as we can and bear through Zoom lectures and online labs for possibly another several months, we can eventually return to a normal life with a widely available COVID-19 vaccine for all.

The truth is that we aren’t any closer to effectively combating this virus to return to even the most basic idea of what pre-pandemic campus life was like. Each lecture room on campus without proper ventilation and social distancing has the potential for the next COVID-19 bomb; crowds at Fallapalooza might as well be a fantasy. It might take some long years to once again see the relative normalcy of 2018-2019.

Lockdowns like this are never easy, but they’re not supposed to be. According to an August town hall meeting led by Provost Thomas Poon, LMU's own budget predictions show a net revenue shortfall of more than $100 million, which would be absolutely unprecedented. Even going online through spring 2021 like UCLA would net a loss between $50 and $100 million.

However, we can’t keep pretending that the hell we’re experiencing these past five months will suddenly disappear once we head into Spring 2021. Other schools aren't acting like that.

To borrow from the recently passed Vera Lynn: we'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we won’t meet again next semester on campus.

This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a junior environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email astory@theloyolan.com.

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