CMU's reopening plan will fail under the current conditions

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Now that we’re a few weeks into the university being reopened and have read through an endless barrage of emails from the administration, I think I can comfortably say that the university’s reopening plan isn't a success like they wanted it to be. There’s a pretty good chance that the university will shut down within a short time period as cases rise, and the efforts will have been for nothing.

The reopening plans were riddled with issues from the start. Testing procedures weren’t properly established until students began arriving on campus, and the asymptomatic testing plans that did get announced aren’t very promising. Given the random incubation period of the virus, the university should be requiring all students to be tested at least once a week. Instead, the current plan hinges on random sampling of students to monitor the situation, and the tests themselves take 3-5 days to return results. It’s a dangerous ploy, and could very well lead to the virus spreading unknowingly and becoming a danger for the surrounding, non-student community.

With the return to campus comes the inevitable issues with students wanting to maintain some semblance of a normal social life during a pandemic. It’s easy to blame students for making dense decisions, but it’s even more naive for the university to reopen under an assumption that students will adhere to all the proper pandemic guidelines. It’s also hypocritical for the university to want to attempt to maintain some sense of normalcy through their actions and not expect students to want to do the same. There’s no good way to enforce these guidelines, and trying to scare students with suspensions without refunds is cruel and unfair.

The university’s attempts to provide a college experience during a pandemic are not helping the student life situation either. The recent attempt to host a large virtual gathering for the Activities Fair wasn’t successful, and virtual social events aren’t proving themselves to be adequate alternatives for students. The added insult to injury is that the university is charging full tuition for a partial campus experience.

The administration is announcing all these plans and making all these measures to ensure that things can go smoothly during a pandemic. However, there is nothing smooth about this at all. Why are we trying to put lipstick on a pig and call it a day? The email they sent out after testing started said that “only .44%” of the test results so far had come back positive. They shouldn’t be looking at it as “only these many people tested positive.” They should be going “oh god these people have tested positive and there are going to be many more.” It would certainly give students a more realistic view of the situation at hand.

Of all the university responses, Carnegie Mellon’s isn’t the worst. The University of Alabama has well over 2,000 cases, and Cornell resident assistants went on strike over unsafe working conditions in late August. That being said, every university with a plan to reopen the campus has it completely wrong, and it's just a microcosm of everything wrong with the handling of the pandemic in this country.

For starters, we didn’t and still don’t have the infrastructure, be it healthcare, government assistance, or anything else, to actually handle disasters. On top of that, we vehemently oppose doing that for various reasons ranging from corporate influence to willful ignorance to misguided notions of freedom and “government overreach.” Congress still hasn’t passed a second coronavirus stimulus package, and many eviction moratoriums, including in Pennsylvania, have expired. We are also likely heading into the worst economic and housing crisis in a very long time, once the CDC repeals its moratorium.

In any real country, we would have free testing in a universal healthcare system, some system to cover workers’ paychecks and/or universal income, rent cancellations, and subsidies for education so that they don’t proceed with harebrained reopening plans just to make money. But this is America, which is now the husk of a parody. We are so incompetent that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that healthcare and “essential” workers are heroes sacrificing themselves for our capitalist economy and societal “normalcy.” Now we are willing to sacrifice professors, teachers, and students for the same reason with schools reopening.

I don’t know if I am angry at Carnegie Mellon or our massively broken system or both. Maybe I expected the university to do better than everyone else considering the resources we have. But in the end, the university is just a reflection of a broken country: incapable of real action, especially during a disaster, a machine that would rather pretend things can be normal for the benefit of the free-market death cultists who run it.