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EDITORIAL: If Rutgers opens, it has to adhere to experts

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More and more schools across the nation are making decisions regarding their operating status in the fall, with many already stating that they will be open for business.

Rutgers, notably, has not made any such decision. This is for good reason, too, as New Jersey continues to have the second most cases in the United States, trailing only behind the neighboring New York. With so many confirmed cases in our state, it is to be expected that Rutgers takes its time with a decision of such high magnitude.

In fact, it is advisable for Rutgers to take a little more time to make this decision, especially considering that Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) has given reasons for both optimism and pessimism during his daily reports.

Whatever they do decide, and whenever they decide it, it must be done with the careful consideration of public health experts. Penning an opinion piece for The New York Times, Brown University President Christina Paxson argued that with the right stipulations, colleges should reopen in the fall.

"The reopening of college and university campuses in the fall should be a national priority. Institutions should develop public health plans now that build on three basic elements of controlling the spread of infection: test, trace and separate," Paxton said.

Of course, the president of a university has selfish motives when it comes to opening campuses. But she is not the only one arguing for reopening or even predicting that it will be the case. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, forecasted that schools would be able to open in the fall.

"I fully expect - though I'm humble enough that I can't accurately predict - that by the time we get to the fall that we will have this under control enough, that it certainly will not be the way it is now - where people are shutting schools," Fauci said, albeit a few weeks ago. But, the situation has only improved since.

So let us say Rutgers does decide to open, which is certainly not what we are promoting nor against. But if it does, it must be the utmost priority of the University to do so with rigorous public safety measures. And it must be done following the advice of public health experts.

That advice would likely include, as Paxson outlined in her article, mass testing, contact tracing and some measure of social distancing enforced. It would include hyper-attentive accommodations for those who are immunocompromised, as well as an influx of digital classes for those who would prefer staying away from others.

Rutgers should also prioritize classes that must be in-person. That meaning, if a class such as a lab or film course must congregate in-person to adequately teach course content, they should have priority for classroom space.

Classes that can be moved online with more ease should, at the very least, have plenty of sections that are digital. This would take many students out of the physical classroom and perhaps make it possible for physical courses to socially distance properly.

Most importantly, leniency should be the general policy of Rutgers. Attendance credit for physical classes would have to be suspended, as students now have a much more valid reason to be wary about attending such classes.

If Rutgers does decide to open, it must work with the state government to acquire mass testing capabilities. Students would have to be routinely tested, and outbreaks would have to be quelled immediately and thoroughly. Mask wearing would have to be the norm, if not enforced.

All this goes to say that there would have to be incredible safety precautions. For some students, that may be well worth the ability to return to campus in the fall, and for plenty more it would not be. Truly, this should not be a decision that Rutgers makes - it should be one made by health experts.

No matter what it decides, it must prioritize peoples' health above all (and not profit), and it must be situational. It must react to the data and advice of health experts and not be based on emotional pandering or financial obligations.

We all want to return to campus as soon as possible, but we all also want to be as safe as possible. The one thing you can do to help quicken our return to Rutgers is social distance - the rest is up to the University itself.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do notnecessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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