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OPINION: USF’s spring break change does not prevent COVID-19 spread

The shift of spring break to the end of the spring semester was done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 due to potential student travel, but it ignores the risk of spread after a monthlong winter break. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Last week USF made the decision to change spring break from March 15-21 to April 12-18 in an attempt to prevent traveling students from potentially spreading COVID-19. The remaining two weeks of the semester is scheduled to be fully online after the new date for spring break.

“The University of South Florida continues to prioritize the health and well-being of our university community as we develop plans for the spring semester,” USF President Steven Currall said. “We remain committed to making evidence-based decisions that support academic continuity and a safe environment for student and faculty success.”

While it’s great to see initiative being taken due to concerns over everyone’s health, there doesn’t seem to be any measures in place for winter break. Winter break is over a month long with students and faculty likely to travel to visit family. If there is such a concern over spring break, then there should be a similar measure in place for winter break as well.

This can be as simple as making the first two weeks of the semester online to give an allotted time to quarantine after traveling. The problem with this, however, is that people may see it as a longer vacation and continue to travel. Even with the majority of classes online, USF’s cases continue to climb, according to The Oracle’s COVID-19 tracker

The Oracle partnered with computer science majors Adheesh Shenoy and Rafael Flores Souza to set up a model that pulls data acquired from the USF Coronavirus website. In this model, there are 642 cases across all three campuses, of which 536 were reported on the Tampa campus as of Oct. 14. The cases on the Tampa campus have increased by 12.66% in the last two weeks. These cases can only be expected to continue to rise as people return from their travels after winter break. 

If USF doesn’t have a plan to prevent cases when returning from winter break, then there really is no point in moving spring break other than for show. Besides, changing the date for spring break to a later point in the semester can cause academic disadvantages. 

An entire week of no classes and schoolwork leaves students with just two weeks to get back on track and prepare for their final exams. This will cause more stress for students to maintain their grades as final projects are due with exams right around the corner.

Another issue with a later spring break is that students and faculty can experience burnout. There is only one other holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, in the spring semester. Having spring break in the middle of the semester can help students feel refreshed and ready to get back on track.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines burnout asa state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Symptoms can range from feeling drained and anxious to being unable to complete daily tasks and having a lower work performance. The NIH said COVID-19 can cause an increased likelihood of experiencing a burnout. 

It’s no question that there are tough choices to make. There’s a struggle to find a compromise between the health of students, faculty and continuing traditional methods of education. That doesn’t mean USF can’t get creative with alternate solutions to balance students’ mental well-being with their physical safety.

USF can prevent some of these issues by cutting spring break in half and creating two weeks with two days off. This idea would help students get the break they need and prevent long periods of travel during this time. Universities like Davidson College and Purdue University have already implemented the change in their academic calendars. 

Purdue University announced Sept. 8 that spring break will be divided into three separate days called “Reading Days.” 

Davidson College announced Sept. 14 that spring break will be separated into midsemester break one and two. On their academic calendar, these dates fall on March 3-4 and April 7-8. 

“[The extra days are] to give faculty and students a brief respite from instruction to permit them to focus on their preparation and check their understanding of materials,” the Purdue press release stated.

If USF wants to do its part to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, it should work to find better solutions while addressing other issues such as winter break travelers, students feeling burned out and moving spring break too close to exams. Ignoring one while trying to fix another is just negligent.