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OPINION: Mandatory face-to-face learning is premature, but inevitable for the future

Faculty are right to question USF’s decision to require in-person learning, but nationwide mandates of face-to-face learning may follow the end of the pandemic. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

During the first week of classes, professors have expressed concerns about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, according to a Jan. 10 article from The Oracle

Despite these reservations, it’s time to plan for face-to-face learning mandates if the pandemic’s death toll ceases to drastically rise.

In the last 14 days, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in Florida has increased by 35% to an average of over 58,000 cases per day, according to data from The New York Times. This trend is worrying as the death rate for the omicron variant is unknown.

Previous COVID-19 deaths in Florida have spiked about 15-30 days after spikes in new cases, according to The New York Times. This trend has only been observed with the delta variant, as the number of omicron cases has not yet peaked.

The omicron variant is unlikely to have as drastic of an impact as the COVID-19 delta variant in terms of death rate due to its lower risk of hospitalization. 

“All indications point to a lesser severity of omicron versus delta,” said the president’s Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci during a press briefing Dec. 29. 

Fauci went on to say the lessened severity may be a result of population immunity or lower virulence of omicron. 

If Florida fails to count a surge in COVID-19 deaths following the peak of new omicron cases, the variant doesn’t pose a high enough risk to the population to encourage virtual learning, and in-person instruction mandates should be installed.

Once infection and death rates stabilize, there is little the government can do to prevent contraction of the disease. Students will still be able to wear a mask and get vaccinated to reduce risk, but a low death rate and high population immunity would mean strong government intervention is unlikely to cause significant changes.

As the public risk of COVID-19 becomes better understood and more predictable, it’s in the best interest of universities and school districts to mandate face-to-face learning. 

In K-12 learning environments, this would encourage socialization. At the university level, a face-to-face learning mandate would offer students some security that courses will be offered in person and will not be handled at the discretion of professors.

The severity of current COVID-19 cases cannot be overlooked in preparation for a post-pandemic future, but if a wave of COVID-19 deaths does not follow the ongoing surge of omicron cases, mandated face-to-face learning should be a step in a return to normality.