Watch for frequent updates!

Yale 62

Yale’s Fall Term: Over Before It’s Over?

By Lee Bolman

So far, not so good, for universities around the US bringing students back to campus for the Fall, even with aggressive measures to try to minimize the spread of Covid-19.  A headline in Friday’s Chronicle of Higher Education reads:  “Colleges Hoped for an In-Person Fall. Now the Dream Is Crumbling.”  Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton are among the many schools that have reversed course even before students came back.  Yale expects to welcome almost 2000 undergraduates to campus today, but their stay may be shorter than planned.

Cautionary tales abound.  In a triumph of hope over expert advice, for example,  the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill brought the students back despite a plea from the local health department not to.  After a week of classes, the campus had accumulated 135 Covid-19 infections and had to tell the students, sorry, but it’s not working.   Think of how we’d have felt if Yale had told us to go home a week after we arrived for freshman year, and you’ll probably have a pretty good sense of the dark mood on that campus. Another example is Notre Dame, which at last word was up to more than 400 cases, even though it had mailed testing kits to students, and 99.7% tested negative.  The student newspaper has pleaded with the administration not to “make us write obituaries.”

So Laurie Santos’ warning to Silliman residents of life-or-death consequences is only slightly hyperbolic. A large group of students coming from many different places will almost assuredly bring some coronavirus infections with them.  The Covid-19 death rate in people aged 18-24 is very low, so there are likely to be few if any student deaths, but there will be some students who get very sick and find that recovery from infection is slow and difficult.  Meanwhile, some of the adults on campus and in the community are at greater risk.   Many employees, such as cafeteria and custodial staff, will need to come to work. Some of them will be frightened and will feel caught between their safety and their livelihood. Meanwhile, with all instruction online, faculty can stay safe by working from home and interacting with students only via phone or Zoom. (Other campuses where faculty are being required to return to the classroom are seeing demonstrations, class action lawsuits and strike votes.)

Parties, often off campus or in fraternities and sororities, have been blamed for much of virus spread on campuses, but there are also problems enforcing distancing measures.  A graduate student resident assistant at Cornell reported seeing a student who was supposed to be quarantining wandering in the dorm hallways on three different occasions. The first time, he reminded her to stay in her room.  By the third time, he gave up.  “Don’t do it” messages don’t work very well unless they’re paired with good alternatives, and campuses have struggled to invent attractive substitutes for the parties that undergraduates crave.

Yale has acknowledged that its health measures for the Fall will feel intrusive.  How long and how well will undergraduates conform to the university’s social distancing guidelines?  Will infections be few and manageable?  We’ll find out soon.

[The link to Lee’s earlier report on this topic is here.]

Lee welcomes your comments below.

5 comments to Yale’s Fall Term: Over Before It’s Over?

  • William Stork

    What a great article, Lee, so well-written and insightful!

    For Y62Readers, some very recent updates from Yale:

    Firstly, they have done an extensive study and determined that safety can be insured by testing students every two days. Yes, this does mean that Yale needs to step up its testing program from twice a week. Here is Yale prof of Public Health David Paltiel explaining “Study: College students can safely return tocampus if tested every two day.”
    This study was reported in JAMA-Online by the American Medical Association.

    Of some interest also is the news from the Courant that almost all Connecticut schools plan to reopen. I know my former school, St George’s in Newport, will open, and they have reported all the steps by which they can do so safely.

    But here, secondly, is further good news! Yale’s School of Public Health’s new low-cost non-intrusive SalivaDirect test has won emergency FDA approval for use! And it gives a quick and statistically accurate response. Read more at the link below.

    Furthermore, Yale is offering SalivaDirect’s protocol open source, so that other labs and researchers worldwide can use it and adapt it to their own special needs. “The authors say they engineered their protocol to be as adaptive as possible.”

    “This could be one the first major game changers in fighting the pandemic,” Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tweeted in response to the news. “Rarely am I this enthusiastic . . . [With] a $10 test, you can test every day or every couple days.”
    To read more about how this inexpensive test works, see

    All best regards!

  • Arthur Mann

    A grandson, Ben Mann is a freshman arriving this week. I can report his observations. He is
    Looking forward to playing football as a tight end.

  • Lee Bolman

    Bill Stork is right that an inexpensive test with fast turnaround really can be a game-changer. Frequent testing is Yale’s best hope of avoiding the Covid outbreaks that are hitting so many other institutions.

    And if Ben Mann is willing to report from New Haven, that would be really cool!

  • Ken Merkey

    Do we know if Yale is going to use the SalivaDirect test for its students?

  • Chris Cory

    These two Covid articles are welcome: tight wriiting and very informative. The Yale test bodes to be something of a game changer,, no?
    — Chris