What Comes After The Ark?

The flood.

Which, as it relates to COVID-19 and colleges and universities, means exponential, contagious growth — the sadly now familiar "r naught" rising rapidly across much of the nation. We wrote about this growth curve — and why colleges were some of the first organizations to close — here.

For a large number of universities, we believe the articles below, many written by faculty and higher education experts concluding that universities and colleges should not be on campus in the fall, should be deeply considered. Especially as there is some evidence that non-fatal COVID-19 cases may lead to long-term adverse health outcomes, including possible neurological damage. Currently, most universities are employing hybrid and social distancing mitigation models: an extraordinary range of plans to put their campuses in theoretically more safe bubbles – arks – wherein some cases students are asked to almost literally lineup two by two, or even one by one, while moving into or about campus. But "one by one" bucks in the very face of risk behavior among the preponderance of the college age cohort, where risk aversion is at it lowest.

COVID-19 appears that it may be getting more infectious but less lethal. This, to some, might be an argument to remain open — "We wouldn't close a campus for the cold or flu season" — you can almost hear the words being uttered by a university spokesperson. But we think it is the exact opposite. The Spanish Flu lasted only two years and never required a vaccine. It mutated over a relatively short amount of time to become less lethal and, with herd immunity, simply ended in the summer of 1919. But the second wave of the Spanish Flu was by far its most deadly. Broad health policy failures and geopolitical inability to social distance were likely the primary contributors to the fatality increase in the second wave. When social distancing did occur, the second wave rapidly declined. Is a second COVID-19 wave coming? No one can answer that question definitively, but that possibility certainly exists, and "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" comes to the front of the mind. History has taught us that in a relatively short amount of time, viruses tend to mutate to be less fatal, but that in the case of the Spanish Flu it was a failure to implement effective distancing practices that caused the deadliest of waves.

The three waves of the Spanish Flu. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3291398/

An important disclaimer: we are not medical or scientific experts. We are not board members of universities, college presidents or chancellors, or deans of graduate schools. Indeed, much of the above (and below) relate to large universities, not small colleges in college town dependent communities, and certainly not law schools – of which the vast majority have the ability to be more nimble and do not have dorm-life. We do not have to make fiscal decisions, nor freeze salaries, lay off employees, declare financial exigency, or close a school down. And we are acutely aware that COVID-19 is indeed novel, and that "no amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all of our knowledge is about the past and all of our decisions are about the future." Which is why, at the end of the day, the gamble for the fall at this moment seems too risky for many universities and colleges to take – especially when the COVID-19 situation is getting worse but might only last for a relatively short amount of time.

Select pieces that explicitly advocate for universities not to reopen:

Supporting data:

Other related links: