Update 4/30/20 12:59 p.m.: LMU released a statement on Tuesday after this article was published that campuses for in-person instruction are planning to re-open safely, under multiple scenarios and with consideration for social distancing and public safety. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.
A lot of LMU students are missing campus right now, but I'd encourage them to wait a bit longer before getting excited about next semester.
Since spring break and the closure of campus for students in response to COVID-19 pandemic, LMU has been uncomfortably empty, albeit not for long. The University released a statement to the community Tuesday that clarified LMU would be re-opening its campus to students for the fall semester while still acknowledging social distancing and other health guidances.
However, if LMU is going to be smart about its re-opening, it should have honestly restructured any plans right now to not re-open campus until the spring 2021 semester.
The Westchester campus is practically a breeding ground for any COVID-19 infection to spiral out of control. Any asymptomatic student or faculty member could get another vulnerable person infected by spreading droplets at one of the many possible locations where multiple people interact on a daily basis. Even if LMU put social distancing measures in place to limit these interactions by having physical barriers and reminding people to stand six feet apart, mirroring what grocery stores in L.A. County have been doing for some weeks now, it will be much harder to enforce. Grocery stores are typically one big building and are now working at 25-50% capacity. LMU, meanwhile, has many different buildings and 9,682 total students (including undergrads, graduates and law students).
Limiting access to LMU's campus to just 25% of undergraduates for on-campus housing only while closing off high-risk areas like dining would still mean around 1,660 people on campus minimum, not counting faculty. That might not sound so bad compared to operating at full capacity, but it was a similar situation to what Liberty University had in March when it invited over a thousand students back to campus after spring break.
While Liberty's courses moved online and the university put in other strict social distancing practices, it hasn't stopped those in the community from getting COVID-19, including reportedly nearly a dozen students showing symptoms, according to The New York Times.
Granted, Liberty is likely the exception rather than the rule with universities re-opening, since the university re-opened as cases were (and still are) climbing in the state, and Liberty's president, Jerry Falwell Jr., is a hard-right partisan scion of a televangelist who claimed people were "overreacting" about the pandemic that has since killed more than 50,000 people in the country. At the same time, it's not like the virus will go away after a few months of sheltering in place once and LMU won't face the same problems Liberty had. We're expected to be hit with a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, combined with the flu season for even more chaos.
There's an unhealthy optimism associated with people wanting to return to some kind of normal as soon as possible. Back on April 1, when events like VidCon and E3 were already cancelled, The L.A. Times posted an overly hopeful video discussion titled "Is Comic-Con 2020 happening? Definitely maybe," just over two weeks before the con was officially cancelled. Though the discussion still touched on the logistical nightmares of trying to host the convention at that point, the video still left too much up in the air for where the con would eventually end up. The same unhealthy optimism could be said for Liberty University.
That said, I'm not any more prescient than anyone else. Maybe, after widespread testing is possible across the country, especially in light of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's announcement of free testing for all L.A. County residents, LMU will re-open according to plan and things can return to semi-normal.
I hope that certainly is the case. I just hope even more that we don't regret holding off the decision until it's too late.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.