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A word about the novel coronavirus...

So today my school and the Claremont Colleges in general decided to move courses online for the rest of the semester. This has led some to question why, so I'd thought I'd try to collect what I currently know about the virus and why this warrants such extreme measures.

This particular pandemic is unusual in several ways.

First, one can be contagious before one shows any symptoms. That makes it very difficult to contain without widespread testing which is currently not available. Therefore, there is a reasonable chance, say at least 50%, that the virus will become widespread across the U.S., to say at least 1/4 of the population.

Second, roughly 10-20% of the infected population will require hospitalization. That means for the U.S. 330 million / 4 / 10 = 825,000 people at a minimum requiring hospitalization. Now when we look at the hospital beds available in the U.S., there are only about 300,000. And that is not even taking into consideration the need to specialty care such as ventilators and private rooms for immunocompromised and elderly persons to restrict transmission. Getting access to a ventilator can mean the difference between life and death for this patient group.

The result is that it is vitally important to spread those infections needing hospitalization over as wide a time period as possible. That means that even if we cannot stop it, we need to slow the transmission of the virus as much as we can. And every bit helps!

For the Claremont Colleges, sending 5000 students out across the world to interact for a week with countless other students from all over the world, and then returning them to share cafeteria and dormitory space is about the worst thing that we could do if our goal is to slow the spread of the virus!

So the short answer is that we are doing this for our students and our community, but we are also doing it because it is our civic duty to do what we can to slow the spread of the virus across the nation. Having taught online and in-person, I do not think that online teaching is as effective as in-person instruction, but for this emergency situation, it is in my opinion absolutely the right thing to do.


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