Open Letter to BUSPH Urging the School to Start Classes Online this Semester Due to Peak COVID-19 Conditions

Dear Dean Galea:

It is with a love for the School of Public Health and a concern for its long-term reputation that we write this letter urging the School to begin the semester with virtual-only classes. We do not think it is responsible for the School to be holding in-person classes at the peak of this pandemic. This is an open letter and is being sent to all SPH faculty who are teaching this semester and whose health and safety are therefore at risk because of what we believe will be unsafe conditions at the start of the semester.

When BUSPH opened for hybrid classes in the fall, COVID-19 infection rates were at a lull, with fewer than 200 cases reported in the state per day. At this time, however, the opposite is the case. We are in the midst of the largest surge of cases in Massachusetts since the start of the pandemic. At the peak of the first surge in April 2020, Massachusetts experienced 2,300 cases at its absolute peak. In the past seven days, we have experienced more than 5,400 cases almost every single day. There has been a consistent linear upward trend in COVID-19 incidence since late October, and it is not even clear whether we have reached the peak. At BU itself, infection rates are at an all-time high. Last week alone, 39 students and 28 faculty/staff tested positive and there were already 57 students in isolation. We do not see how a school of public health, with any serious respect for the health of its community, can—at this time--force faculty and staff to face potential COVID-19 exposure in indoor settings with large numbers of people present.

Our colleagues at two of the other schools of public health in Boston are enjoying the ability to teach from home and not to risk not only becoming infected themselves, but potentially infecting household members, some of whom may be old, infirm, or immunocompromised. How can BUSPH continue to justify forcing faculty and staff to assume substantial health risks against their will? This violates one of the most basic principles of public health. We do not force people to assume substantial health risks against their will, especially when an alternative is easily available.

Even more problematic is the fact that under pandemic conditions, there are no benefits to in-person, hybrid teaching. The overwhelming message from both faculty and students last semester was that the hybrid classroom is actually far worse than simply holding classes online. Since there are no pedagogical benefits to in-person, hybrid classes but there are substantial health risks, what possible justification can there be for holding in-person classes? It is clear that the primary concerns of SPH are financial ones, not health concerns. It violates public health principles to put financial concerns over the health of not only the BU community but the larger community as well.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary mission of the School of Public Health should be to try to minimize the morbidity and mortality from this disease. However, the decision to hold hybrid ("learn from anywhere") classes this spring does exactly the opposite. We believe that the 400,000+ deaths that have occurred in the last 11 months are unacceptable and that at the very least, a school of public health should not be contributing to the pandemic. We ask for your leadership in making BUSPH an example for what all employers should be doing at this time: not requiring employees to be in indoor spaces with multiple other people unless absolutely necessary. It is not absolutely necessary for SPH classes to be held in-person and in fact, the teaching and learning experience is superior in an online-only format to a hybrid one. Unfortunately, we believe that the early decision for SPH to hold in-person classes (which was made in late April during the first surge) has hamstrung our ability to lead because we are hardly in a position to advise other institutions to close down. However, this is what every nurse, doctor, and health care practitioner at Boston Medical Center is urging of us as they witness every day the suffering that is being caused by the failure of institutions to discontinue in-person gatherings. At SPH, we are not talking about small in-person gatherings. We understand that classroom capacities of up to 50 students have been approved for attendance next week! Not only does this appear to violate the city’s emergency order limiting indoor instructional classes to nor more than 10 people, but it is simply unable to be justified given the public health catastrophe that is occurring in our own on-campus hospital every day.

Of the choices available to the School (which are only two: hybrid or online-only), this choice maximizes the potential exposure of the SPH community. But it goes far beyond that. It also maximizes the potential exposure of everyone we come in close contact with, including our families, friends, and the general public. Given the tremendous toll that COVID-19 has already taken (more than 400,000 deaths in less than 11 months) and the fact that we are currently at the all-time peak of the pandemic, it is unfortunate that we would choose the option that maximizes the potential impact on morbidity and mortality in both the School and the overall community.

We are concerned not only about the possibility of on-campus transmission, but about the substantial risks that are placed on employees who are forced to take public transportation to get to the BU medical campus. Even if our classrooms were safe, requiring employees to come to campus to teach or play other classroom roles is going to force many of them to an unacceptably risk of COVID-19 exposure on public transportation. Not everyone drives to campus. We believe that the majority of students and staff, and a substantial proportion of faculty, use public transportation to get to campus. This is a high risk proposition we are requiring them to take, and they should not have to gamble away their health protection at the peak of a pandemic when a practicable and didactically superior alternative is readily available.

Making the situation even more dangerous is the likelihood that the B. 1. 1. 7. variant, which is reportedly much more infectious, will be highly prevalent in Boston in just a few weeks. Our health care system is stressed to the brink of a humanitarian disaster. Do we want to play any role in producing cases that could literally drive the system over the edge?

It is for this reason that we believe the decision to hold in-person classes to start this semester forsakes the School's primary mission, which is to save lives. Right now, the single most important thing we can do as a School to save lives is to minimize exposure to the virus to the greatest extent possible. With respect to exposure associated with holding in-person classes, the only option that is consistent with the School's mission is to move to online-only classes, at least for the start of the semester.

Sincerely,

Michael Siegel MD, MPH - BUSPH faculty

Zachary Bos - Vice-President, UAW Local 2324 at Boston University and affiliate, Center for Anti-Racist Research 

Anonymous BUSPH faculty

Anonymous BUSPH faculty

Anonymous BUSPH faculty

Anonymous BUSPH faculty

Nicholas Argy, MD, MD - BU and BUSM alumnus

Dani Brooks - BUSPH student

Jacob Rubenstein - BUSPH student

Jenny Liu - Friend of BUSPH

Montgomery Smith, MPH - BUSPH alumnus

Leen Arnaout - BU Biomedical Engineering (BS, 2021)

September Johnson, MPH, CHES - BUSPH alumnus

Hiba Abousleiman (she/her) - BUSPH student

TraciAnn Hoglind, MPH - BUSPH alumnus

Geri Medina - BUSPH student

Jesse Dubin, MPH - BUSPH alumnus

Nisha Puri, MPH - BUSPH alumnus

Gregory Kantor, MPH - BUSPH alumnus and current SPH teaching assistant

Isabel Plower - BU student

Anonymous BU student

Vivian Dai - BU student

Hannah Simon – BUSPH alumnus

Loulwa Soweid (she, her, hers) – BUSPH alumnus

Korey Pow – BUSPH alumnus

Nikita Nikita – BUSPH alumnus

Allison Gasca-Backman (she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Chioma Nnaji – BUSPH alumnus

Elizabeth Koonce (she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Amy McInerney – BUSPH alumnus

Martina Spain (she/hers) – BUSPH alumnus

Agata Bereznicka – BUSPH alumnus

Alana Assenmacher – BUSPH alumnus

Ben Ubani – BUSPH alumnus

Ashlee Espensen – BUSPH alumnus

Caeli Tegan – BUSPH alumnus

Bradley Davis – BUSPH alumnus

Andrew Chiao – BUSPH alumnus

Sukhmani Bal – BUSPH alumnus

Jessica Plante – BUSPH alumnus

Sara Purvis (she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Grace Carey – BUSPH alumnus

Rafik Wahbi (he/him) – BUSPH alumnus

Alexis A. Everett, MPH  – BUSPH alumnus

Kate Yeksigian – BUSPH alumnus

Marena Sullivan – BUSPH alumnus

Caroline M. Flessa, MPH (she/her/hers) – BUSPH alumnus

Carly Marker – BUSPH alumnus

Charles Estabrook – BUSPH alumnus

Tiffany Rodriguez (she/ella) – BUSPH alumnus

Britta Seifert – BUSPH alumnus

Melissa Miller – BUSPH alumnus

Katarina Boehm Badore – BUSPH alumnus

Staige Davis (she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Felicia Heykoop (they/them/she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Kimberley Hutter (she/her) – BUSPH alumnus

Meghan Walsh (she/her) – BUSPH student

Gray Babbs – BUSPH student

Savannah Lorenc (she/her) – BUSPH student

Julia Nash – BUSPH student

Cheyenne Bailey – BUSPH student

Marissa Carpinetti (she, hers) – BUSPH student

Sarah Rossi – BUSPH student

Athena Davis – BUSPH student

Sierra Palmer – BUSPH student

Alivia Perrone – BUSPH student

Kelly Danckert (she/her) – BUSPH student

Sarah Thomson – BUSPH student

Saja Alani – BUSPH student

Morgann Byrne – BUSPH student

Emma Pendery – BUSPH student

Hannah Henrikson (she/her) – BUSPH student

Anuradha Sahu (She/Her) – BUSPH student

Sam Heller – BUSPH student

Nilagia McCoy – BUSPH student

Alejandra Guzman – BUSPH student

Maria Garcia (she/her) – BUSPH student

Allison O'Connor – BUSPH student

Jericha Tavares – BUSPH student

Julia Broccoli – BUSPH student

Julia Loewenthal (she/her) – BUSPH student

Nihaarika Sharma – BUSPH student

Steffany De Jesus Capellan – BUSPH student

Zandra Levesque – BUSPH student

Christian Mazimpaka – BUSPH student

Caroline Slyer (she/her) – BUSPH student

Jessica Lawrence – BUSPH student

Omobolanle (Bola) Adams – BUSPH student

Paige Stockwell (she/her) – BUSPH student

Yareliz Diaz (she/her) – BUSPH student

Melanie Kirsh (they/she) – BUSPH student

Sara Mar (she/her) – BUSPH student

Eilisha Manandhar – BUSPH student

Sarah Lincoln – BUSPH student

Senila Yasmin (she/her/hers) – BUSPH student

Elizabeth Raskin (she/her) – BUSPH student

Jaymie Zapata – BUSPH student, Queer Alliance Board Member

Natasha Sanchez (she/her) – BUSPH student & BU Staff

Nicole Kitten – BUSPH student & BU Staff

Madison Sargeant – BU student

Brenna Cleeland (she/hers) – BU student

Devlin Moyer (he/him) – BU student

Noa Saunders – BU student

Kristin Lacey, PhD Candidate – BU student

Daniel Leonard – BU student

Emily Popky, MPH - BUSPH alumnus

BUSPH Queer Alliance E-board

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH alumnus

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH student

Anonymous – BUSPH Staff

Anonymous – BUSPH Staff

Anonymous – BU student

Anonymous – BU student

Anonymous – BU student

Anonymous – friend of BU 

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