Purdue University’s Mitch Daniels on how college may hold class in fall

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Smaller classes and mandatory face masks are likely to be part of Purdue University’s plans to return students to campus this fall, Mitch Daniels, its president, told CNBC on Monday. 

“You can expect smaller numbers in every context,” Daniels said on “Power Lunch.” “I know we’re looking for ways to reduce the size of classes, obviously keeping distance between people. Probably going to see masks as a requirement, at least for a long time here.” 

Daniels, the former two-term Republican governor of Indiana, where Purdue is located, said the university also would likely forgo the large events “that enliven life” on campus such as “lectures and guest speakers and convocations of that kind.” 

“All those things and many more, changes to our physical facilities, for instance, will be necessary for us to conclude that we are safe,” Daniels said. “We won’t move forward unless we believe that, but to get to that point, we have to get going now.” 

Daniels wrote a letter to the university community last week, in which he stressed many of the proposals to return to in-person classes were “preliminary.” They should be viewed “as examples, likely to be replaced by better ideas as we identify and validate them,” he wrote. 

Purdue University

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Daniels wrote that at least 80% of Purdue’s population “is made up of young people, say, 35 and under. All data to date tell us that the COVID-19 virus, while it transmits rapidly in this age group, poses close to zero lethal threat to them.”  

Young people do have lower rates of hospitalization and mortality rates from Covid-19, but they can get severely ill and die. 

Young people are also at risk of spreading the virus to people who are more vulnerable to serious infection, which for a university means faculty and staff, as well as students’ parents and other family members, for example. 

Daniels told CNBC the most significant changes implemented by the university would be to protect those who are at higher risk of severe illness from the “very real danger that this virus poses to them.” 

“We will consider new policies and practices that keep these groups separate, or minimize contact between them,” Daniels wrote in his letter.

Daniels also told CNBC that one of the “most likely” changes would be to condense the university calendar, minimizing breaks and “the number of times people come and go.” 

Testing 

Public health officials stress the importance of testing for Covid-19 in any plan to relax restrictions meant to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

Daniels said Purdue plans to have a “very aggressive testing regime” that could start “well before students arrive” or at least when they arrive. It also will continue regularly after students are on campus, Daniels said. 

The university will lean heavily on its on-campus lab to help process tests, he said. Daniels noted the lab is already being utilized to process tests for the state of Indiana. 

“We’ve set aside a number of units that will be held for students who might become ill so that they can be properly quarantined and kept comfortable [and] continue, we hope, their studies remotely while they recover,” Daniels added. 

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