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A Yale professor’s brutally honest email about COVID-19 underscores how messed up things are

Published Aug 20th, 2020 10:02AM EDT
Schools reopening
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  • When it comes to schools reopening around the country, we’re seeing the same story play out in many communities at the moment — schools reopen, coronavirus cases are found, and a major course-correction has to be made.
  • A Yale University professor recently sent out a pretty blunt, uncomfortably honest email to students, saying they should “emotionally prepare” themselves for death around them as they return to campus.
  • The warning comes as more than 173,000 people have now died in the US from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Did anyone really think that our attempt at some sort of semi-normal reopening of schools would play out any differently than what we’re seeing unfold right now across the US? In communities around the country, we’re seeing a pattern keep repeating itself because of the coronavirus pandemic — a school reopens, cases are identified, and everyone quickly reverses course, most often via a closure and transition away from in-person learning.

In some communities, there are stories of teachers being required to sign coronavirus liability waivers, which state that by signing the document the teacher understands that they risk being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, because of the stories about closures that keep piling up, one teacher in Kansas decided to launch a national database to track all of the school closings and related coronavirus cases around the country as they multiply. For me, though, few things have underscored how messed up things are right now when it comes to our perilous national experiment to reopen schools than an email that Yale Head of College and psychology professor Laurie Santos sent out to students recently, warning them in blunt terms not to expect a normal college experience — and even to “emotionally prepare” for death around them.

“We all should be emotionally prepared for widespread infections — and possibly deaths — in our community,” Santos wrote in the email, dated July 1. “You should emotionally prepare for the fact that your residential college life will look more like a hospital unit than a residential college.”

Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson found this email somewhat buried way down in a Yale Daily News story:

Santos was referring specifically to Yale’s “community compact,” which involves returning undergraduates being required to sign a document that includes a promise to wear face masks and to practice social distancing. She warned students not to treat this the way some of us did when it came to required reading back in college, which sometimes is just skimmed for the main ideas we can pluck out. The students’ actions affect people other than themselves, Santos stressed (per the Yale Daily News), adding that some Yale staff members “are from sectors of society that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and … they do not have the choice of whether to come to campus.”

According to that Yale report from Tuesday, full classes are scheduled to begin at the university on August 31.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.