September 18, 2020

Respecting COVID-19: Considerations for reopening

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In a recent interview with The Commuter, Northampton Community College President Mark Erickson said that NCC will be reopening to some degree in the fall and that a detailed plan will soon be released. The likely scenario will be a mix of courses remaining online, with the more hands-on courses taking place on campus. 

While many Americans are eager for things to return to normal, there is not much evidence suggesting it is entirely safe to do so. States that had minimal shutdowns in the early stages of the pandemic, or have attempted to reopen prematurely, are now seeing their highest number of cases.

On June 26, Pennsylvania entered the “green” phase of reopening and many local businesses and their clients floored it back into action – prompted by the color that tells them, “Go!”

On Main Street in Bethlehem, crowds have been gathering at outdoor dining areas since Northampton County entered the “yellow” phase on June 5. Masks are seldom seen covering the faces of those in attendance.

For those wondering whether it’s safe to jump back in, here are some statistics to consider: (Gathered, unless stated otherwise, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Worldometer, a reputable website that compiles data from government sources and medical journals. Numbers in this article are relevant to the date it was published.)

The United States makes up 4.25% of the world’s population, but American coronavirus deaths account for 25% of the worldwide total, which surpassed 504,000 by June 29. The U.S. saw its highest number of positive COVID-19 tests in one day on June 26, exceeding 40,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Trends show that record will likely be broken soon.

There have been more than 2.5 million reported coronavirus cases in the U.S., with nearly 32 million tests administered. Of those cases, about 1.2 million are considered closed – 89% of patients recovered or were discharged, the remaining 11% are the more than 128,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

Only two states have reported a decrease in coronavirus cases, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Pennsylvania’s case numbers have been consistent, with 4,230 new cases reported in the past seven days. Pennsylvania has been among the states with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic’s tear through the country, reporting almost 90,000 cases in total, with 6,660 of those resulting in death.

Lehigh and Northampton counties are currently in the top ten for total cases in the state, 4,214 (7th) and 3,389 (9th), respectively, as of June 29. On the day Pennsylvania entered the “green” phase, 540 new cases were reported statewide, including 18 in Lehigh County and 17 in Northampton County. Monroe County’s seven-day average of new cases more than tripled since entering the “green” phase on June 19, as reported by the Mount Pocono Boro.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a state that had minimal shutdowns and reopened bars and gyms in early June, 42,449 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the past seven days. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reported that the mean age of people who tested positive for COVID-19 dropped from 65 in March to 37 in June.

In Texas, another state that flouted shutdown measures, cases have increased steadily this month, causing the governor to order bars to reclose and restaurants to limit occupancy to 50%. Texas reported more than 40,000 cases in the past seven days.

It should also be noted that California, a state that took relatively serious shutdown measures, has also reported more than 40,000 new cases in the past week.

A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no evidence linking recent coronavirus surges to Black Lives Matter protests. Mounting evidence shows that the risk of spreading and contracting the coronavirus is significantly lower outdoors, especially when masks are worn and social distancing is administered. The risk increases indoors; the closer the quarters, the higher the risk of transmission. Whether air conditioners can blow around airborne droplets carrying the coronavirus is being investigated; some studies have reported it is possible, others claim it is not a major factor.

The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, reported that wearing masks can reduce the risk of exposure from 17.4% to 3.1%. Despite the ease of access to this type of information, millions of Americans continue to deny the effectiveness of wearing a mask. There is now a movement of people who have gone a step further, claiming that masks are hazardous to human health. One viral Facebook post claiming that a young woman was hospitalized for pleurisy, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the lungs, caused by prolonged mask use, was labeled as incorrect and unsupported by Health Feedback, a non-partisan and pro-science fact-checking organization. Regardless of the substantiated fact-check, the post has been shared tens of thousands of times and this type of disinformation continues to spread, like the coronavirus itself.

With medical experts, by and large, agreeing that social distancing outdoors is relatively safe and that wearing a mask increases that safety, while similarly warning of the dangers of gathering indoors, one may conclude that the best way for any institution to resume on-site activities would be adhering to those advisements. Classrooms, once a place where so much was gained, could become, during the pandemic, a place where so much is lost.  

(Editor’s note: An update was made to this article to include Monroe Country statistics)

Chris Devlin

Chris Devlin, editor of The Commuter, is a freshman at NCC.

View all posts by Chris Devlin →
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