Groundhog Day

Dear University of Oregon community,
Thank you for your ongoing efforts to protect yourselves and others against COVID-19 as we all came back together for fall term.
The university is closely monitoring the worldwide increase in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant. Public health experts continue to stress that vaccines are the most powerful tool for protecting health and reducing serious illness from COVID-19. This is encouraging given the highly vaccinated status on our campus and other, existing mitigation steps. Recent scientific data overwhelmingly supports the effectiveness of booster shots.
Due to the expected spread of the Omicron variant, Oregon Public Health officials are urging everyone to get their COVID-19 booster vaccination as soon as they are eligible. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, individuals 16 and older should get their booster six months after receiving a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and two months after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In support of this public health guidance and to protect our community, the UO will require all students, faculty, and staff to receive a COVID-19 booster as soon as they are eligible, upon final review of existing research and government guidance. Details about the deadlines, uploading records, and process for this requirement will be announced as soon as they are finalized.
We encourage all who are eligible to add getting their booster shot to their winter break to-do list.
You can do so by attending a public vaccination clinic, working with your medical provider, or working to get an appointment with a local pharmacy. To learn more about boosters and the Lane County Public Health drop-in clinics that are now available visit the COVID-19 Resources website.
With more than 95 percent of students, faculty, and staff currently vaccinated, we have helped to keep our campus and community healthy. Boosters are the next step in the evolving public health strategy in which we have adapted and responded as a community during the pandemic. During winter term, we will also continue to rely on our layered health strategies such as wearing masks, testing protocols, and conducting case management.
Again, thank you for your vigilance and resilience. I know the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic is wearing on us all. I hope that you are able to take some time in the coming weeks for rest and restoration. I am very proud of the way the UO community has come together to continue to learn, discover, and serve.
I wish you a restful, happy, and healthy holiday season.
Sincerely,
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law

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51 Responses to Groundhog Day

  1. CSN says:

    Good news. Omicron is here and may well be a substantial wave.

  2. Florence Day says:

    It might be easier to support the Covid optimism that the UO is broadcasting now if the Campus response to Omicron were designed to be a little more flexible and well-targeted than past responses. No one knows for sure, but it looks as if many people will get an experience of this variant, even if they have been vaccinated. And if it also looks as if very, very few UO students are really in danger of serious disease, then there may be no need to radically disrupt courses the way we did last year—or put people in danger. But flexibility and careful targeting are necessary. I am considering only students and instructors here.

    If the spike in cases and severe disease is steep and short, as it has been in some places, it might be possible to move to zoom temporarily—a few weeks—until the surge passes. It might also be possible for older instructors (and we have some active ones in our multi-generational institution) and employees with vulnerabilities (respiratory disease, immune disorders, obesity) to be free to move to zoom courses without going through the arcane and somewhat demeaning process of begging HR to let them stay safe. We have good data on what kind of people are most vulnerable.

    Just some thoughts… I know it’s a big ship to steer, but it would be encouraging to see some more flexibility and adaptability—and even resilience—built into the ship.

  3. moss defender says:

    Hmm so much concern about health and safety yet no mention of arson or hostages….oh well, I guess those shenanigans are just background noise…I wonder if they could CATCH a arsonist DUCK if they were not going around starting fires in the mandatory MASK disguise UO mandates….besides, the dorms they are trying to burn lately are not needed for any upcoming sporting events or any student athletes so why even think about those decrepit facilities

  4. cruel irony duck says:

    With due respect, the most powerful thing UO could do here would be to shut down in-person classes and empty the campus of all but the most essential personnel.

    The jury is still out on whether vaccines or masks actually slow the spread of COVID, but it definitely doesn’t spread over the Internet.

    Shut it down.

    • NoMoreFactoidsPlease says:

      The jury is NOT still out on vaccines and masks slowing the spread of COVID.

      • cruel irony duck says:

        Okay. But note that I’m talking about “as delivered” rather than “in theory”. On the few days that I venture out, I almost always see more nostrils than N95s (even counting my own).

        And the raft of cruise ship outbreaks (which should not be happening, as they’re an unusually controlled, fully vaccinated environment) is not encouraging.

        The vaccines have been a historic, almost unbelievable win in terms of keeping the vaccinated from dying. And medical staff in the trenches seem to be learning fast what works and what doesn’t. The rest–especially the yapping of politicians–I don’t find particularly credible.

  5. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    UO will go remote as omicron spreads out of control, is my bet. The sooner they announce the better, so people can prepare. But maybe they will delay as long as possible for various understandable reasons, in hopes the thing will blow over.

    • thedude says:

      And going remote won’t matter at all, because all the students live here in Eugene, and the worst actors won’t care about class going remote for their partying.

      If anything, it just means the unvaccinated students won’t be subject to weekly testing anymore and the spread just gets worse.

      But you know, lets virtual signal our way out of this.

      • CSN says:

        I don’t understand your logic.

        Non-remote world:
        Worst actors party, spread the disease to other bad actors
        Worst actors go to class, spread the disease to non-bad actors

        Remote world:
        Worst actors party, spread the disease to other bad actors
        Worst actors do not go to class, do not have as many opportunities to spread disease

        • Dog says:

          As an instructor who was fully vaccinated at the start of fall term –
          I felt comfortable teaching in person classes for that term.

          However, given the rapid spread rate, and apparently “breakthru” infections (and I got my booster shot on Nov 3) – I would not feel
          comfortable winter term teaching in person.

          So remote does better protect the instructor.

        • thedude says:

          You’re assuming it spreads in class when everyone is masked, 97 percent vaccinated, and presumably not symptomatic.

          Where’s your evidence of that?

          I’m fully boosted now. I fully expect to get Omicron one way or another in the next 3 months. I’ve made peace with that. You all should to.

          Remote world:
          Student spend days largely unmasked hanging out with other or having parties.

          Non remote world
          Students spend days largely masked in class. Students who aren’t vaccinated are required to to be tested weekly.

          This is about you being afraid of teaching in person, not protecting the community. It also assumes you won’t get omicron from other community spread, which is doubtful if it spreads as easily as you fear it does (that you’ll be infected in a large room far away from vaccinated students wearing a mask).

          • Dog says:

            As stated, I was comfortable in Fall when Omicron was not present;

            I am not comfortable now.

            Yes on getting omicron, but if I did, I would likely still be able
            to function in a remote teaching capacity, but not in person; that is where the difference lies

          • Dog says:

            Oh yes and I have personally been “afraid of teaching in person” my entire academic career, independent of the virus situation. I would much rather teach in a way that removes me from the students – plus I suck at in person teaching, ask anyone …

            Dog’s generally can’t speak intelligibly but usually can type up content …

          • cruel irony duck says:

            Not to be churlish, something doesn’t add up. On the one hand, you seem to be saying that spread is very unlikely if all are masked, vaccinated, and not symptomatic.

            And yet, though you are (presumably) masked, vaccinated, and not symptomatic, you expect to certainly be infected.

            The answer, I think, is that your second scenario is the realistic one. We’re all going to get Omicron, and it doesn’t really matter who is masked or vaccinated.

            The only thing that matters is that maybe (maybe!) if you’re vaccinated, when you then contract Omicron, you might be a lot less likely to die.

            Beyond that, so far we’re not seeing much of any indication of Omicron fatalities. Our betters are falling all over themselves trying to hide this, but there’s just a whole lot of nothing happening so far. Maybe it will eventually ramp up. They can hope.

            • Thedude says:

              I expect to be infected through community spread not through teaching.

            • just different says:

              This “reasoning” sends me around the bend. It does matter. If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re a lot less likely to die and you’re a lot less likely to contract it in the first place, spread it to others, or get long covid. Less community spread is a very good thing for a whole bunch of reasons. The “betters” aren’t the source for this, the science is.

              ___

              Nonetheless, we don’t yet know yet how severe omicron is going to be. It’s entirely possible that the (apparently) reduced case fatality rate is due to the vax rate. But the mere fact that omicron is far more contagious means that the numbers are working against us. It would have to be extremely mild to make up for its transmissibility, and infection with an earlier variant doesn’t seem to do shit-all in providing immunity. So unless we are unreasonably lucky, the vaccinated are once again going to suffer because of the unvaccinated.

              • cruel irony duck says:

                “If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re a lot less likely to die…” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of data to support this. It’s also no business of the University. (I suppose one could quibble about insurance premiums, but until we ban employees from eating pork rinds or skydiving, this is silliness.)

                “…you’re a lot less likely to contract it in the first place, spread it to others, or get long covid.”

                This is not clear at all. There seem to be papers with results going in different directions on all three of these questions. Even in an alternative universe where all of this was not contaminated with politics, it might take years to tease all of this apart and figure out what’s happened. Or, we may never know, since the data is so spotty.

                We certainly _do_ know that the fully vaccinated catch COVID in significant numbers and _do_ spread it in significant numbers. We’re only starting to scratch the surface of the full depths of “long COVID”.

                Beyond that, we don’t have the slightest idea what the ten or twenty year results of COVID will be. Nor do we have the slightest idea what the ten or twenty year results of the vaccines will be. There literally is no data at all. That should give us all pause.

                • just different says:

                  Not knowing everything does not imply knowing nothing, and all possible beliefs are not equally likely or equally valid. We have a damn good idea that there are no “long term effects” of the mRNA vaccines, and also that the vaccines are still the single best way to control the pandemic. I’ve been in this exact same stupid argument before with climate change deniers so I’m very familar with the disingenuous “just asking questions” playbook.

                  __
                  And it’s pretty rich hearing a right-winger complain about covid research being contaminated with politics.

                • cruel irony duck says:

                  Replying to “just different”: I partly agree. But regarding “We have a damn good idea that there are no ‘long term effects’ of the mRNA vaccines”, no, I disagree. This is simply not known. It’s not reasonable to think that because there were one or a hundred such in the past and they turned out okay, thus, future ones as well will. Biology is not like this. It’s crazy complicated.

                  I’ve placed my bet, given my circumstances, and am as vaccinated as I’m allowed. But I accept that I’m operating from a state of almost pure ignorance. I’m just guessing. Given our general state of ignorance, and that each individual’s circumstances are unique, I accept that others may decide differently than I have.

                  Is this a “right-wing” position? Okay, I’ll take it. Perhaps I should listen more to these right-wingers…

              • Thedude says:

                Might want to check that. Some evidence omicron is spreading more rapidly in places of high vaccination vs in places with high natural immunity. Presumably this due to less effective neutralizing antibodies and better t cell response from prior infection.

                But you’re right we’re still learning.

                • cruel irony duck says:

                  Along these lines, ran across this today. I’d seen one mention of negative VE before and assumed it was a typo. Here’s another. Stared at it a while to convince myself that it really does mean the obvious thing. They’re talking about a situation where the vaccinated group does worse (relative to the unvaccinated). What does that mean? I’m not sure. The world is complex, and there are many possible explanations. But any real scientist would certainly be wondering about this oddity.

                  https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.12.20.21267966v2.full.pdf

                  Right now, the people that I trust the most are saying, I’m not sure. But based on the preliminary, feeble science we have, it looks like people in situations X, Y, and Z should do Q, with appropriate humility. People who are _certain_ that they know what’s going on scare the hell out of me.

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        dude — CSN and dog get it. it has nothing to do with virtue signaling.

  6. thedude says:

    Personally. I wish that we were not mandating this on young people who are at the most risk of severe side effects (especially young men) and the lowest risk of severe disease especially when they have two doses already. I got my booster Sat so it doesn’t matter for me, but boosters are still only EUA …

    And if we are going to mandate boosters (not clear they’ll stop omicron (which appears to be coming for us all) I wish they were putting out some reasonable guidance based on the evidence so far. Like that Moderna (which I received for all my doses) appears 4 times more likely than Pfizer to cause heart inflammation in young men (and it happens at least at a rate of 1/4,000 men, so this may impact a couple of our undergrads). So much so it’s being banned in much of Europe for men under 30.

  7. Mike says:

    Are they still allowing philosophical and religious exemptions?

    • cruel irony duck says:

      Pretty sure the University has said that philosophical objections are of no significance. And really, why would a University care one whit about rational argument?

      • cruel irony duck says:

        That was a glib reply from an anonymous coward (me). Here’s what courage looks like:

        https://aaronkheriaty.substack.com/p/farewell-university-of-california

        Similar things are apparently about to start on Jan 14 at UO. Most will not be affected. UO will just lose a few dozen or hundred people that think the most differently and are willing to stand on principle.

        • honest Uncle Bernie says:

          He made his choice and now he will pay the consequences. I would feel sorry for him. Except that I prefer not to have people like him around me at work. Had there not been a vaccine mandate at UO, I would not be teaching there now. A choice which I would have made, and for which I would have paid the consequences. I would not expect to be pitied. Certainly not by the anti-vax crowd.

          • cruel irony duck says:

            I think it’s okay to feel bad for him while at the same time not wanting to be around him. More than him personally, though, I feel bad for his institution, which apparently lost a gifted resource, and for the students he might have had. And maybe for society as a whole, which needs people like him.

            As for you, I do feel sympathy. I’m in the lucky position of being 100% remote, so it’s largely academic to me (aside from moral disgust at the situation). As far as I’m concerned, all instructors should be allowed to be 100% remote, on their own call. Right now, perhaps they should be required to be.

            But will being away from such people help you? I doubt it. In the last week, for example, we’ve seen two significant outbreaks on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. You can’t even get on one without being fully vaccinated, unless you’re under 12, in which case you are tested. Not surprisingly, this is not proof against COVID, since the vaccinated can still pass the virus around (according to the literature).

            I do think that it’s important to distinguish between people that don’t want to vaccinate (or don’t feel it’s appropriate for their children), versus those who think that the mandate itself is wrong, and will ultimately do more harm than help to boot. I’m in the latter camp, but broadly recommend getting vaccinated.

            Omicron is coming and none of us will escape, short of hiding in the woods. So far, it seems to be causing far fewer instances of major sickness.

            COVID is killing a lot of people, and it’s unclear how much we can do about that. Societal division is also killing a lot of people, and I’d like to think there _is_ something we can do about that.

            Godspeed to us all.

            • homest Uncle Bernie says:

              it’s all about improving the odds, in my mind. Nothing is going to be foolproof. Will we all get omicron? I’m not convinced. Some signs it will plummet as fast as it rises. In the meantime, better treatments coming. It may continue to mutate into something more benign. There may after all be something like herd immunity. Should I hide in the woods in the meantime? Maybe not so bad, in a manner of speaking. I am glad and grateful for the UO vaxx policies.

              • cruel irony duck says:

                Take heart. The numbers suggest that most of us will still die the American way, by cancer and heart disease. There are uncontroversial interventions to prevent those–safe, effective and cheap even–but we won’t do it.

                If COVID could be cured only by giving up french fries, soda pop, and booze, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. As with the 40,000 Americans that die every year in traffic, we’d just say, “Oh, well” and move on.

            • cruel irony duck says:

              Updating, CDC says there are now 89 cruise ships with outbreaks. Maybe vaccines don’t prevent transmission while everyone is hammering cheap drinks. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-28/connecticut-s-blumenthal-calls-on-cruise-lines-to-halt-sailings?srnd=premium

              Also, these wacky guys at NBER seem to think that lockdowns actually killed a lot more people than they saved. Math and everything. https://www.nber.org/papers/w28930

              Sure hope no one looks at the effects of firing thousands of healthcare workers during a pandemic.

        • Mike says:

          Hmm…. he talks about the “priviledge” of teaching. I guess he walked over to that edge and jumped. His firing was a personal choice. I say “ Live it, or live with it!”

  8. moss defender says:

    pretty weird how many academics buy into this covid conspiracy / boondoggle / unfunded mandate hook, line and sinker…..I would have hoped for more wide ranging views around here…..seems like way more of you are watching CNN after all ? Or is it the New York Slimes ? not sure I guess its just a kool aid drinkin thing, some do and some dont…perhaps it is like the new Nike shadow campus – reactions vary from cheerleaders to quiet crowd audience yet all agree it is both inevitable and are willing to ride along it like a political and financial roller coaster. I think it may jump the tracks…by design…weirder yet is the UO claim they are helping to manage this problem IN the new shadow campus….if they were really helping solve this problem why dont they give the public all the details

  9. Florence says:

    WSJ: Harvard University said Saturday it would start the winter semester online for three weeks to reduce density on campus. Staff and students must be vaccinated by Jan. 18 or face disciplinary action.

    Stanford University will also start the winter quarter online and is requiring students to get the Covid booster by the end of January. Classes are now scheduled to resume in person on Jan. 18, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

    The University of California, Los Angeles said Tuesday that classes would go remote after the holiday break until Jan. 18. Pennsylvania State University and the University of Southern California are also considering an online start for next semester.

    A consensus seems to be emerging.

  10. Florence says:

    Harvard University said Saturday it would start the winter semester online for three weeks to reduce density on campus. Staff and students must be vaccinated by Jan. 18 or face disciplinary action.

    Stanford University will also start the winter quarter online and is requiring students to get the Covid booster by the end of January. Classes are now scheduled to resume in person on Jan. 18, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

    The University of California, Los Angeles said Tuesday that classes would go remote after the holiday break until Jan. 18. Pennsylvania State University and the University of Southern California are also considering an online start for next semester.

    A consensus seems to be emerging.

    • Dog says:

      there looks like there is going to be some unfortunate timing here
      as of Dec 21, there were only 4 official confirmed cases of Omicron in the State of Oregon, sure that number will rapidly rise, but I suspect it won’t be until the latter part of January that sufficient cases have occurred in Lane county that require the UO to make some decisions. I think its better to be prudent now and simply
      state we are going ON line at the start of winter term, but it has been well established that dogs just bark noise, never sense …

      • Florence says:

        I’m glad that I don’t have to make these data-short calls. And now you can add wintry weather to travel and the first week of classes, which will produce absences. I am shifting to a more conservative position, too. It’s a better narrative to open on zoom and look forward to in-person after the (relatively brief) surge slows. If we had to go to zoom suddenly at the end of January or early February, it would feel like a failure and social disruption to the students. Better to come back to campus on (what we hope will be) a triumphant note.

  11. Observer says:

    I was very troubled when one of my students, a very good student who is in treatment for a very serious cancer, came to me distressed because his prof was not being accommodating about the mandated accommodations. I will not go into specifics because I haven’t asked the student for permission to describe this, but it was clear that the prof felt the student was just slacking. The accommodations office finger-wagged at the prof, but things had not changed the last I heard. And if some profs won’t be flexible for a student with a life-threatening cancer in the middle of a pandemic, what hope is there that the system will be looking out for the rest of us? To me it looks as if the university has mandated in-person classes at any cost — and there will be a cost.

    • cruel irony duck says:

      This is hard to read. Those with cancer, who are presumably taking treatments that harshly suppress their immune systems, are at grave risk from COVID, vaccine or no.

      The University should accommodate. More than that, though, the student should simply ditch the University. Living is far more important than succumbing to the bureaucratic maw.

    • just different says:

      The truth is that there’s very little AEC can do besides finger-wag. Higher ed is by construction extremely ableist towards students and faculty alike, especially when it comes to chronic, generalized, or mental-health problems, along with the whole spectrum of conditions that get called “learning disabilities.” Taken together, that’s a sizeable fraction of the population, but there’s no mass movement to demand equity. Yet.

  12. cruel irony duck says:

    I have real doubts about the value of “equity” (in the newspeak form).

    Story: I had significant mental health issues as an undergraduate. (Still do, I guess.) Anyway, took a core technical class and flunked out. Was allowed to retake it (equity, 70s-style). Same professor. He didn’t remember my name, but he sure remembered my face. And his scowl made it clear that he didn’t want me there after my first abominable performance. Put my nose down. Handing out the exams from the midterm, he suddenly realized that I’d pulled an A+. The look on his face was priceless, and helped change my life.

    If modern equity was in place back then, I’d have slouched through on the first attempt and been left wondering for the rest of my days whether I could do that work.

    • Compulsory Pessimist says:

      Nnnnno, you wouldn’t have “slouched through on the first attempt if modern equity was in place back then.” Holy crap. “Modern equity” doesn’t mean “lowered standards” FFS.

      • cruel irony duck says:

        I do think that “modern equity” logically requires “lowered standards”. This seems inescapable, a la Pareto. I also think that for reasons of general humanity, it’s reasonable to give a bit, trading off standards to achieve a result most people would consider humane. As a non-controversial example, accessible curb cuts are more expensive than the old kind, but we as a society feel that’s a reasonable trade-off (especially given our level of wealth). They’re not “free”, though. Spending money on one thing means not spending it on something else, and on the margin, some of that non-spending will lead to misery and death for someone.

        That was not the point I was making, though. Rather, if my professor had made the sort of allowances for me currently demanded by equity, _my_ outcome would have been worse. Doing something for well-meaning reasons isn’t the same as actually helping. And often enough, it’s harmful.

        • just different says:

          Wow. Great illustration of my point below. Curb cuts are a basic civil rights issue, so applying a cost-benefit analysis to them completely misses the point (or reflects an extremely screwed-up value system.) As does the idea that disability accommodations are “well-meaning.”

      • just different says:

        Exactly. Disability accommodations level the playing field so that people with disabilities have equal access. They’re not an indulgence or a lowered bar. But there are still a whole lot of bigots who don’t understand this, and I haven’t seen UO do anything to address that.

        • cruel irony duck says:

          I don’t agree that those who disagree on the level of reasonable accommodations are bigots. This is a terribly difficult judgement, and people acting in good faith can reach different conclusions.

          A while back, I was an instructor for a 101-ish course which had one student with a profound disability. I was very sympathetic about this, and poured my time (paid and free) into making it work for him. He certainly appreciated it but did not get far in the course. A side effect was that I let the rest of the class slide (there are only so many hours in the day). At the end of the semester, I was fired for that. Annoying at the time, but easy to see now that my actions, though well-meant, were not reasonable.

          • just different says:

            What? This story sounds more than a little fishy. The student, along with the disability services office, decides what accommodations are appropriate for the student to have equal access. The sympathy of the instructor, or lack of it, has nothing to do with anything.

            _

            The student is entitled to reasonable accommodation by law, where “reasonable” means that it doesn’t put the school out too much (a line which is not as muddy as you claim). If I’m understanding you correctly, you seem to think that “reasonable” is somehow tied to whether you believe the student “deserves” accommodation or is likely to pass the course. This is irrelevant.

            _

            If whatever a student needs for equal access places an undue burden on the instructor, then the school is required to provide additional support. Don’t flatter yourself about whatever you did being well-meaning. You did that student a disservice by not sticking to the script and working out appropriate accommodations with the disabilities office. You’re not an expert on what a disabled student needs. They are.

            • cruel irony duck says:

              Well, that’s enough internet for this year. Happy New Year and godspeed to us all!