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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Campus

‘I’m not ready to get COVID’: Class format decisions fall in professors’ hands as second soft-launched semester begins


soft opening

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

 Since announcing the decision to pivot to a ‘soft opening’ format for Spring 2022, UH has averaged 40 COVID-19 cases a day, as of Jan. 15, before students have begun returning to campus. 

When the University chose to opt for this format of instruction, it did so with the understanding that the rise in COVID-19 cases worldwide and surge of the highly-contagious Omicron variant would affect students returning to campus in Spring. 

“In the days since the end of the fall term, we’ve continued to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant, which now accounts for 95% of all COVID-19 infections in the U.S,” said UH President Renu Khator in her ‘soft opening’ announcement. “While Omicron is believed to be less severe, its infection rate is still a cause for serious concern.” 

The ‘soft opening’ format, which was also instituted during the Fall 2021 semester, gives instructors the choice of whether they want to conduct classes in-person, online or a hybrid of the two formats. 

“Instructors have been empowered to modify their course format during the soft openings to reduce the number of students in close proximity,” said UH spokesperson Shawn Lindsey. 

78 percent of classes in Fall 2021 were held in a face-to-face setting following the soft opening, according to Lindsey. The University said it found this strategy effective, since it helped reduce contact.

“This (soft opening) strategy proved effective in reducing close physical contact at the start of the fall semester during the Delta surge, and we believe it will again be a key strategy for limiting the spread of the virus for the start of the spring semester,” Lindsey said.

However, during this soft opening period though, COVID cases on-campus hit a spike, peaking at 34 COVID-19 cases reported to the University. 

Data depicting a COVID-19 spike after Fall 2021 soft opening from UH COVID-19 Tracker. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Nevertheless, the University proceeded with their choice to opt for a ‘soft opening’ this semester, citing that other Tier One educational institutions were choosing similar routes. 

“Our plan for temporary, flexible changes to course modalities is consistent with the other large flagship universities in Texas,” Lindsey said.  

Universities like Rice University, the University of Texas, UT Dallas and UTSA have all opted for a virtual-only format for the first few weeks of the semester. 

This ‘soft opening’ is a choice that some UH students have been criticizing, as it leaves the decision of their class formats in the hands of their professors, instead of the hands of the University administration.

“I’m not ready to get COVID,” said journalism senior Haya El Abdallah. “My parents are old, I don’t want to affect them. I’m not ready to go back to campus yet.”

On Jan. 7, the University reported 75 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 32 of those cases on campus, one of the most recent peaks.

Data depicting the current COVID-19 surge from UH COVID-19 Tracker. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

As COVID-19 data changes, El Abdallah is still worried. 

“I’m scared of COVID and I’m scared for my family,” El Abdallah said. “I would much rather have virtual classes.”

In lieu of this format choice, UH continues to ask students, faculty and staff to follow COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations the University has been encouraging since the start of the pandemic.

“Keeping our campus safe and healthy, and slowing the spread of Omicron is a shared responsibility,” Lindsey said. “We all need to take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and those around us by following the advice that we all know: Avoid large crowds, wash your hands frequently and consider wearing a face covering.”

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