There is an online petition and a protest planned for Tuesday by a group of Moscow and Palouse region community members who prefer the University of Idaho hold online classes only for the fall semester because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Holly Kim, 33, of Lewiston, who is in the UI master’s program in accountancy, is leading the online petition and planning the protest in front of the university’s Administration Building that is tentatively scheduled for 8:30-10 a.m. Tuesday.

The protest is planned to coincide with a Zoom meeting being held by University of Idaho President Scott Green and Executive Vice President Torrey Lawrence to answer questions about how the school will reopen. Protesters will be expected to practice social distancing and wear masks, Kim said.

“In-person classes and the large gatherings that occur routinely on campus should not resume until Latah County and Moscow have demonstrated flat or falling coronavirus infections for a period of weeks, as recommended by the CDC,” Kim said. “Many of us do not feel safe and feel our health is being jeopardized for no good reason.”

The university plans to reopen the school to in-person class instruction this fall and plans to test all students for COVID-19. Kim said the testing plan is “a distraction to make people feel safer when in reality the tests are not that reliable.”

“The petition is our way of informing (the university) that members of the Moscow and the Palouse community prefer online instruction,” said Kim, a council member with the university’s Graduate Professional Student Association. “We are really hoping C. Scott Green will listen to the community members of Moscow to convert its classes to entirely online instruction.”

The petition, which has been online since late Wednesday morning, has garnered 1,018 signatures by Sunday afternoon with a stated goal of 1,500 signatures. It can be viewed at www.change.org/UniversityofIdahoGoOnline.

The letter accompanying the online petition expresses concerns about Idaho being one of 18 states where COVID-19 infection rates are rising. COVID-19 infections in Moscow would be expected to rise with students returning to the city, which could overwhelm Gritman Medical Center’s “three-bed ICU capacity and its overall accredited 25-bed count.”

“This is for the health and safety of everyone, bringing students to campus adds a tremendous risk to the community,” Kim said. “We know it would take a lot of courage for (the university) to change course but they would demonstrate powerful leadership in protecting the life and health of it and the wider community.”

Kim plans to defer studying at the university this fall if the university decides to hold in-person classes.

The group expects infection rates to rise because of indoor classes and the likelihood that students will congregate at parties where social distancing will likely not be practiced.

“The virus remains in the air for hours within poorly ventilated buildings, making face-to-face instruction a high risk for all involved, including the surrounding community into which these people flow,” the petition said. “Masks can only reduce the risk of transmission if they are made and worn properly.”

The online petition notes Washington State University, Harvard, Yale and Princeton are all going back to school this fall online.

“Residents of Moscow and the Palouse cannot uproot and move elsewhere because our population will double with the incoming students,” Kim said. “But it’s in the university’s power to conduct classes online and to protect the health of all.”

The petition will remain online after today for others who wish to sign it, Kim said.

Wells may be contacted at mwells@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.

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