Moving further and further into this semester, we’ve all heard them in our classes — the sniffles, sneezes and coughs. I’ve had friends, classmates and professors all send the texts, emails and post-cough reassurances that they just tested negative the previous day for COVID-19 — it’s just a cold or allergies. Given the lightening of many COVID-19 precautions around Grounds, it’s no surprise that colds and other common illnesses are emerging among the student body. Even if they aren’t bringing COVID-19 into the classroom at high rates, students and faculty are coming to class sick. The University wants in-person instruction to continue, despite allowing students to disregard masks outdoors during packed football games. Events like these will be superspreaders — if not of COVID-19 — of normal seasonal illnesses like the cold and flu.
We’re all under the pressure to make this semester work. The administrators making decisions about the community’s fight against COVID-19 don’t have to come to class. Administrators don’t have to move through crowds on the way to class. They don’t have to wonder about student after student after student in our classes who have stuffy noses and worrisome coughs. But because we’re under pressure to keep in-person classes going, we come to class.
I am concerned that the University’s in-person plan will backfire. I am concerned that students will refuse to get tested because they know they’ll have to quarantine for weeks if the result is positive. I’m tired of feeling scared because people are sick with something in all of my classes.
As such, I believe attendance should not be mandated in any class this semester. Most students know when they need to stay home, and they understand that going to class is often crucial to passing their courses. However, my suggestion is not meant to undervalue the classroom but rather to curb the pressures we all feel to make this in-person semester happen. And yes, simply going to class with a sore throat is the kind of pressure many of us are experiencing right now.
It’s been my personal experience that many professors are already accommodating the circumstances of this pandemic. I have multiple professors who either don’t mark attendance or readily encourage sick students to stay home and get their notes from assigned notetakers. These are the kinds of professors and teachers that should be in every last classroom on Grounds. Threatening any punishment or failure due to absence right now is ridiculous. Excusing absences because of medical notes isn’t helpful either — taking a negative COVID-19 test is about all most of us have time for. If it isn’t coronavirus, most students just don’t have the time to figure out what they're actually sick with. We’re already under the time-consuming pressures of being college students.
If the University eradicates all attendance mandates and policies from its educators’ syllabi, students will feel less pressure to come to class with coughs, sniffles and sore throats, even if they aren’t caused by COVID-19. My classes without attendance policies still have full or near-full classrooms. Obviously, the University would be asking students to be self-responsible with this action, but we’re all adults here. We either know or are in the process of learning what’s best for our education and health.
If you’re a student reading this, and you’re feeling any sort of illness, be responsible and take a COVID-19 test. You still have a role in this community — whether that of U.Va. or Charlottesville — and you should be precautionary right now. No one wants to be a breakthrough case of COVID-19 among the vaccinated population. However, if you are one, you should not put the rest of the community at risk because of your refusal to get tested. Testing on Grounds is free and accessible to all students.
If you’re a professor or teacher reading this who has an attendance policy, please take it upon yourself to eliminate it. It helps no one. Students will still come to class — this just makes their lives a little less stressful. To the teachers who have already taken this action, thank you. I can only speak for myself, but I feel the most welcomed and cared-about in your classrooms.
Again, I call on the University to swiftly eliminate all attendance policies across Grounds. The sooner this move is made, the quicker students will feel a little bit less stress about this incredibly stressful semester.
Bryce Wyles is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.