UI reopening plan draws mixed reactions

Nelda Hume participates in a small protest outside the University of Idaho Administration Building in Moscow in August. Hume is an alumna and former employee of the university. The protesters are opposed to in-person classes this fall because of the coronavirus. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended that the UI, Brigham Young University – Idaho, and Boise State University move to all online classes due to the coronavirus. 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended three Idaho colleges, including the University of Idaho, move instruction online in response to elevated levels of COVID-19 in nearby communities, according to a report from the Idaho Statesman.

The task force recommended closing colleges in Latah, Madison and Ada counties, which are home to the UI, Brigham Young University – Idaho, and Boise State University.

“Governor (Brad) Little remains committed to working with Idaho’s universities, public health and local school districts to determine recommendations that work at the local level,” Marissa Morrison, Little’s press secretary, wrote in an email to the Statesman.

The Statesman reported Idaho has a rate of 195 new cases per 100,000 people for the week of Sept. 26, making it eighth highest rate in the country. The UI reported 116 positive tests that same week, with many cases tied to a rise in cases among on-campus Greek organizations.

Last week, the UI announced it would test its entire student population for a second time following the spike among fraternities and sororities. During that time, instructors have been given authority to choose whether to deliver class in person or online, UI officials said.

UI spokeswoman Jodi Walker said the school will continue with this strategy and decide how to move forward once test results are returned by the end of next week. Walker said the UI is taking the recommendation with a grain of salt. Public health authorities have not traced any of the cases back to UI classrooms, which she said shows health and safety protocols erected by the college are working. Further, she said the task force’s report is based on inaccurate data.

“If you look at the information that’s in there, they are reporting an 80 percent positivity rate for 18- to 24-year-olds, which it’s not hard to realize that’s nowhere close to accurate,” Walker said.

Walker also noted on-campus isolation spaces for those who have been infected or exposed are still well under capacity.

There is no single metric that would cause the UI to shift instruction online abruptly, Walker said. Once the second round of tests are returned, that data will be passed onto medical experts who will consider infection rates against other factors, such as local hospital capacity before making a recommendation.

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