Return to in-person classes at NSS delayed - again
It’s a hot and humid mid-July in Nashville, which is about the only thing that is more-or-less normal. Mid-90s and humid is the definition of July here in the mid-south. It’s nice to have at least one thing that feels like it’s supposed to, even if it is hot and sweaty.Outside of the weather, very little feels normal or even like we might see normal again sometime soon. We’re going backwards on reopening middle Tennessee - mandatory mask orders are in place in most of the Greater Nashville area (hey, Rutherford County, what took you so long). Daily new case counts have been climbing steadily. The bars in Nashville are closed again. Heck, Nashville has even banned “transpotainment” vehicles like pedicabs and limousines (who else besides me didn’t realize that pedal taverns are regulated by the state so the city apparently can’t ban them?). We also know that at least in Davidson County that schools will be online to start the school year.
With the lack of progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus locally, we took another look at our plans for “reopening” NSS - i.e. bringing classes back together in-person. Given where things stand locally, we see lots of risk and limited benefit in trying to return in-person in the near future. As a result, we are announcing that a return to full-time in-person classes will not happen before the end of this year. The earliest we will consider bringing classes back to full in-person schedules is sometime in January of 2021.
We are keeping our options open as to limited in-person events or small groups in our building during the fourth quarter of this year. But at this time nothing is scheduled in-person. And returning to in-person classes in January is very much still uncertain. We are effectively delivering all training remote via our synchronous online classes , our students are acquiring the necessary skills to launch careers, graduates are still securing jobs, albeit not as fast as prior to March given the coronavirus recession we’re in the middle of, and we’re even figuring out how to sustain a level of community engagement through online/virtual events. As long as we’re able to deliver on our mission for our students and graduates, there’s no reason in our minds to rush back in-person if it’s going to put anyone’s health at risk.
We also know from surveys of our current students that we have on the order of 30% to 35% that are not able and/or willing to be in-person for the foreseeable future for a variety of reasons, including the student or a family member being immunocompromised, a family member that is a front-line health care worker, kids at home because schools are not meeting in-person, etc. We also know we have staff members with the same issues of being unable or unwilling to be back in a high density in-person environment.
We have all been learning more, literally day-by-day, about this disease and how it functions and where the risks are. But even after four or five months of shutdowns here in the U.S. and Europe we still are being presented with contradictory research results and advice from different areas of the medical and public health (which are not the same thing) communities. Right this minute, we seem to be most focused on increases (sharp increases in many locations) in the overall active case count. But after several weeks of increases in case counts, we are generally not seeing comparable increases in hospitalizations (some, but not proportional in most areas) and we definitely haven’t (yet?) seen anything close to comparable increases in death rates. So what does that all mean - on any given day you can get several strongly held but contradictory opinions. Makes it hard for us mere civilians to know what is truly the best course of action.
We think the next two months or so are going to be full of more learnings as we observe what happens from different strategies of returning K-12 schools to various modes of instruction around the country and from the wide variety of strategies colleges and universities are planning to pursue for the fall semester. This feels like a situation where being the pioneer or early adopter is not a great idea, so we’re going to continue to observe and learn and then decide what’s safe and responsible. And another three or four months will give us all a lot more information on the progress towards a vaccine for COVID-19 as well - some of the early clinical trial reports on a couple of the vaccines seem promising but there’s still quite a ways to go.
We wish we didn’t need to do this. We miss being with our students and our community in-person. But, by pushing a return to in-person off until at least January, we’re voting to keep everyone as safe as we can, to keep them acquiring skills and preparing for new careers, while we all learn enough about this disease to finally create reopening plans that keep our adult students and staff healthy and safe.