Opinion: Remember: COVID-19 never sleeps
With temperatures reaching the upper 90s this weekend, we’ve arrived at the dog days of summer. It’s hot, we’re listless and yearn for the chill of a crisp fall morning.
Given the pandemic, summer weeks become all the more wearisome, as one day melts into another, with no end in sight. We get up, go though our motions and find it hard to concentrate.
That plays right into the hand of the coronavirus. As Neil Young famously put it, more than 40 years ago, “Rust never sleeps.” Nor does COVID-19. Whether it’s Florida, Texas, Arizona or, to a lesser degree, Kansas, the virus remains, never sleeping and always dangerous.
While not near the levels of many other states, Kansas rates of infection have risen sharply over the past month, and the state currently receives an “uncontrolled spread” rating. On June 6, Kansas reported 24 new cases, while the week of July 5-12 averaged 429 new ones. Deaths have not yet spiked, but more cases almost certainly mean increased future fatalities. Still, on a per capita basis, Kansas continues to have lower death rates than our neighboring states.
But COVID-19 never sleeps, and that should be our mantra. Most importantly, we need to proceed with our eyes wide open, as opposed to President Donald Trump’s wishful thinking that the virus will just “disappear” and his tendency to ignore expert advice, like that of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
In Kansas, most counties chose to overturn Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to wear masks, only to see the number of cases rise steadily. COVID-19 never sleeps.
As summer turns into an autumn of K-12 reopenings and the influx of students back to Kansas colleges and universities, how should the state, its educational entities and parents/students react, given that the virus will not, per Trump, magically disappear?
Aside from doing the obvious, such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing and encouraging a lot more testing, we all need to be fact-based and flexible. That doesn’t mean closing things down at the drop of a hat, but it does require us to face realities and seek to control what we can.
Although K-12 education presents difficult problems, school districts may well have more flexibility than colleges and universities that bring together large numbers of students (and staff/faculty) from many places. While college students are likely to adjust with varieties of instructional formats and on-campus rules, they seem highly unlikely to comply with mask/distancing guidelines in social situations. What are universities to do with thousands of students who will mingle, socialize and — let’s be clear — drink?
Borrowing from an excellent overview from the University of Connecticut’s Sherry Pagoto, one thing that those in authority, whether in government or education, can do is to provide a positive view of what things can look like in the medium-term future, say the Spring of 2021. It’s really a question of deferred gratification; adults can generally succeed here, however unhappily, but students and other young people will have a much more difficult time.
In the end, higher education institutions should not fear halting in-person classes and encouraging social distancing. Nor should state governments wait to shut things down, per Texas, Arizona and Florida, until the virus has once again ramped up.
In the end, we are human and impatient, but COVID-19 never sleeps.
— Burdett Loomis is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas.