Purdue University President Mitch Daniels defended his decision to resume in-person classes this fall absent a vaccine or treatment for the novel Wuhan coronavirus, as the risk to college students remains dismal and the nation begins to settle into its new antisocially distanced normal.
“We’ve learned the survival rate and the lethality danger to young people who make up more than 80 percent of our campus community is near zero,” Daniels said on Fox News’ “The Story With Martha McCallum.” “On the list of risks which sadly are always present on our campus, car wrecks, other accidents, cancer, heart disease and others, dramatically, statistically out-rank this new virus.”
Accoridng to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control on mortality in the United States, the virus’ death rate goes up with age. Those younger than 25 are indeed shown to be at nearly zero risk of succumbing to the widespread pathogen.
“We’ve got 40-plus thousand young people who have indicated that they want to be on our campus. They’ve sent money in deposits in record numbers,” Daniels added. “For us to say we’re just not up to this, we can’t figure out how to protect those who are vulnaerable, so you all go take a year off… would not be to live up to our assignment and our duty.”
Daniels made clear the university was implementing “dozens” of measures to ensure the safety of students and staff on campus for the 20 percent who may be more susceptible to the viral threat, including a mandatory campus-wide face mask policy and social distancing in classrooms capped at 50 percent or less of what is standard. Students will be forced to sit 10 feet apart and faculty will remain behind a Plexiglass screen during lectures.
Failure to comply with the new rules, Daniels said, would result in disciplinary action in accordance with the university’s guidelines on student misbehavior such as public drunkeness.
“We will probably give them a second chance, but it’ll go on their record and if they are defiant about it, well at our school at least, we don’t tolerate repeated rules violations and we would ask them to depart,” Daniels made clear.
When asked about a new USA Today poll out Tuesday showing nearly 1 in 5 teachers reporting they may not return to classrooms this fall, Daniels emphasized the safety measures Purdue was putting in place to protect potentially at-risk staff.
“I couldn’t have been more sympathetic,” Daniels said. “Fear is probably the most basic human emotion, and we shouldn’t criticize anyone who expresses it. However, what is important here is our entire focus, all those things I just mentioned and dozens more I could is aimed at protecting those who might be vulnerable.”
As students grapple with loneliness and isolation at home, Daniels stressed reuniting the university community could further help stave off an already existing mental health crisis by reducing anxieties and providing a semblance of normalcy in an uncertain era.
“Plummeting birth rates means a lot of these young people have fewer siblings or relatives,” Daniels said, noting that an addiction to social media amid the ongoing pandemic could exacerbate students’ feelings of isolation.