Scenes from newly opened universities in a pandemic

I fly back to Minnesota tomorrow! It’ll be nice to get back to a normal routine.

Except, my first in-person classes are on Tuesday! I hope I would have the courage of this college professor.

During Irwin Bernstein’s second class of the semester, the student, who was not present on the first day of class, arrived at the 25-person class unmasked and was asked by Bernstein to retrieve one from the advising office. The student was given a spare disposable mask from a peer but did not wear it over her nose.

Bernstein asked the student to pull her mask up to wear it correctly, but she said she “couldn’t breathe” and “had a really hard time breathing” with the cloth over her mouth and nose.

Written on the board at the front of the classroom was, “No mask, no class,” according to fourth-year psychology major Hannah Huff.

The 88-year-old psychology professor explained to the student that he could die from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and age-related problems, Bernstein said in an email to The Red & Black.

Only about 15 minutes into the Tuesday lecture, which consisted of Bernstein taking the student attendance, he asked the student to pull her mask up again, but this time, the student did not respond.

So he walked out and quit.

If I found myself in similar circumstances this week, I don’t think I’d have to quit: my university has a mask requirement, unlike the University of Georgia, a state with a spineless, stupid Republican governor. I would not look kindly on a student who tried to pull that bullshit about not being able to breathe. That’s a lie. I wear a mask all the time in public, and no, it does not significantly impair breathing. That girl was an immature whiner trying to make a stupid protest.

UMM is at least not like Liberty University, which tried to pull off a completely laissez faire policy: no required masks, no social distancing, and no vaccine requirement. Look what happened there!

Liberty University announced a campus-wide quarantine on Thursday due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The evangelical Christian school’s office of communications said the “temporary mitigation period” would occur between Monday and Sept. 10, with all residential classes moved online and large indoor gatherings suspended.

There are 159 known active cases of the coronavirus at Liberty, according to the Lynchburg, Va., college’s COVID-19 tracker, the highest number since last September when 141 individuals tested positive for the virus.

Out of the 159 known cases, 124 are among students.

That was entirely predictable.

I can’t whole-heartedly laugh at stupid ol’ Liberty U, though, since my university only implemented the predictable, necessary, and obvious requirements to protect students and staff the week before our school opened.


  1. John Small Berries says

    At least your university did make the decision on their own and before they opened. The university where my wife teaches was going the “masks recommended but not required” route until our governor mandated a return to masks, effective on the first day of the semester.

    Also the administration made available a “Student Request for Learning Adjustments” form so “students who object to vaccination based on medical, religious or personal beliefs” can request accommodations, but nothing for students like one of my wife’s, who lives with his grandparents and is terrified of catching a breakthrough infection from one the nincompoops who refuse to be vaccinated, and bringing it home to them.

  2. raven says

    It is even worse in the K-12 grade school system for the children.
    Schools are starting the fall quarter and closing down a week or two later due to Covid-19 virus outbreaks.
    I heard of one school that closed after the first day.

    This spring, the local district had a mixture of online and limited in school days. The health department published a list of schools that had Covid-19 virus cases.
    At one time or another it was all of them.

    We are back in the pandemic again.
    The only difference is that most of the people dying are unvaccinated at around 95%.

  3. whheydt says

    Re: John Small Berries @ #1…
    Being afraid of killing your grandparents by coming home with a COVID infection sounds like a valid “personal belief” to me.

    Re: Raven @ #2…
    Last spring, our local schools moved to a “hybrid” schedule in which the parents could choose whether on not to return kids to in-school classes or stick with remote. Our grandson was kept on remote, both because of the ongoing risks (no vaccination for his age group at the time–he is vaccinated now, though) and because no one saw any benefit from disrupting the way things were working for the last month or so of the school year.

  4. HappyHead says

    The really sad part is that the idiot who was refusing to wear a mask (or to wear it properly) probably thinks she won some great victory for freedom.

  5. kome says


    According to students interviewed in the article PZ linked to, the student laughed and said it was a blessing in disguise. One would hope that the university disciplines this student for simply failing to adhere to classroom policies as laid out by the professor. But they won’t, because it’s political, and the only people you cannot punish in this country over anything political are people aligned with right-wing politics.

  6. tacitus says

    In the final couple of weeks of the last school year in England, 1.2 million children (out of 8.9 million) either had Covid-19 or were self-isolating after being in close contact with a case. This was at the height of the delta wave. No school-age children were vaccinated, and masks were “not advised” for the children or teachers.

    England mostly got away with it because of the very high uptake in vaccinations among those most at risk — people over 50 — so the hospitalization rate has remained under 20% for the delta wave compared with the alpha wave. But everyone is bracing themselves for a repeat once the new school year starts, especially since self-isolation after close contact is no longer required. They only need to take a PCR test.

  7. raven says

    Being afraid of killing your grandparents by coming home with a COVID infection sounds like a valid “personal belief” to me.

    It has been known to happen quite often.

    There are now over 100,000 orphans in the USA, produced by the Covid-19 virus. It’s rare but not unheard of for both parents to get Covid-19 virus and die. However, a lot of children in the USA are being raised by single parents or a custodial grandparent. Which is a single point of failure.

    The actual unit of transmission is quite often…the family.
    It’s all well and good to say, go isolate yourself for 2 weeks or a month or whatever but most people can’t really do that very well. How many people have a second home close by or an RV parked in the driveway anyway? Also common is the children coming home from school and infecting the parents.
    How do you isolate a 7 year old? They can’t really forage in the woods on their own or whatever.

  8. woozy says

    “According to students interviewed in the article PZ linked to, the student laughed and said it was a blessing in disguise.”

    It’s hard to figure out what exactly she thought the “blessing” was but I get the feeling she didn’t want to take the class. The other students were annoyed as it was a required class for graduation. Another student quoted, Hannah Huff, gives me hope for the next generation. I don’t usually like how folks my generation just love to gush at how passionate and aware the young people are today, but this shows an uplifting display of grace:

    “The damage is done. Obviously she has her values, and they’re clearly not going to change even when someone asked you to do something that will make them feel comfortable…Bernstein [the professor] is there for you [the student]. Like, he came out of retirement to do something for us, but you just can’t take it out of the kindness of your heart to put a piece of fabric on properly.”

  9. KG says

    In Scotland, where the schools reopen earlier than in England, cases are now at an all-time high – although as in England, high rates of vaccination of the most vulnerable have kept deaths relatively low. But of course those who get mild symptoms can still develop long covid – including children. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is “concerned” about the level of cases – but not actually planning to do anything about it. As far as Covid is concerned, she only looks good when viewed next to Johnson.

  10. dodecapode says

    If putting a cloth mask over your nose gives you serious breathing trouble, maybe make an appointment with your doctor to get that looked into. There are some people with valid reasons why they can’t wear a mask (due to medical conditions, or being an assault survivor for example).

    For most it’s just such a pathetic excuse. If you catch Covid and end up in the hospital, the people helping you will be wearing masks for long ass shifts and just getting on with it. Hell, I wear an FFP2 anytime I’m indoors with strangers. Wearing one for a 5 hour trip into town on the train and in shops sure isn’t the most fun thing on the planet, but it won’t do the vast majority of people any harm other than a sweaty face.

  11. robert79 says

    I have a student who is deaf, she follows lectures by reading lips.

    This, for me, is one reason I won’t be masking while lecturing. But even if this were not the case, teaching is so much more than just the words you say. Body language, and especially facial expression is a part of communication, and I doubt I could teach as effectively, even for hearing students, while masked.

    Luckily, I’m healthy and not at risk, vaccinated, and teach in a country with a relatively high vaccination rate. Even so I’ll be doing some basic precautions:
    – I won’t be sitting right next to a student looking at their tiny laptop screen trying to figure out why their code is buggy.
    – I most certainly will not touch their keyboard.
    (Knowing myself, I will not consistently adhere to the above two points.)
    – Any student is free to grab the cord to the beamer and plug it into their laptop so we can look at the big screen at a safe distance.

  12. Who Cares says

    Good sodding grief. My father has COPD, 30% lung capacity left, with the threat of permanent oxygen if he deteriorates further and he can use a mask without any problem. If he can with the kind of condition anyone can.

    @robert79: Having a lip reader is no excuse for not masking up since <a href=”>there are masks for that. And if you don’t think those are worth it, get a face shield. Healthy or not doesn’t matter to COVID (and you might be in that 20% to 40% that is infectious but asymptomatic) and just having that face shield while talking, since you are teaching, reduces the chance that if you have the virus that you end up infecting your students

  13. whheydt says

    Re: robert79 @ #11…
    You can get masks with transparent plastic over the mouth, made specifically to aid lip-reading. Would you care to re-think that particular excuse?

  14. whheydt says

    Re: raven @ #7…
    The CDC issued a report about a cluster of 26 cases in Marin Cty, CA. The teacher took off her mask to read to the class. Eight of the ten students in the first two rows of the class either tested positive of came down with symptomatic cases of COVID (and one of the ten wasn’t even tested…so it could have been 90%!). The kids spread it to their families. All 26 cases were either unvaccinated people who were eligible to be vaccinated, or kids too young to be eligible.

    The CDC didn’t name the school, but the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco (which also covers Marin county) said that is was an “internal matter” and has been “dealt with”. So…we know it was a parochial school.

  15. fishy says

    In an alternative universe I wish Mr. Bernstein would have called security and had her escorted to the clinic. It seems to me breathing problems are a symptom of covid-19.

  16. says

    @#9, KG:

    IIRC, early on she tried to “do anything about it” only to be slapped down by Johnson, because the necessary powers to actually take action on this are not devolved to Scottish Parliament, and are instead held by the UK (i.e. English) Parliament, which is of course fully controlled by Johnson’s Tories (and has, as its notional opposition party, Labour under Keir Starmer, a man who has actively refused to say what his party stands for or what Tory policies he is willing to oppose). This is generally the case when there’s something awful in a UK country other than England. (In England, it’s also the fault of the English, but at least there’s no pretense that Parliament is innocent.) England blaming Sturgeon or the SNP for this particular problem is like a bully holding somebody’s hand and saying “stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”

  17. numerobis says

    Linked to from that story:

    COVID-19 cases doubled at the University of Georgia after the first week of classes, according to the university’s reporting system. UGA reported 231 cases over the week of Aug. 16-22, significantly higher than the 104 cases during the week of Aug. 9-15. The positivity rate was about 4.26% for this week.

  18. IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot says

    Seriously. Or at least end class early due to a “hazard in the classroom” and make sure someone from security is present at the beginning of the next class.

    I suspect, though, that the professor knew that security or the administration would not support him. In that case it’s “quit or (maybe) die”.

  19. numerobis says

    Per the story, there is no mask or vaccine mandate at UGA because they are banned by legislation.

  20. John Morales says

    I reckon a psychology professor would damn well know exactly what was going on.

    And yes, he was doing the uni a favour (I doubt he needed the money), but clearly he figured the administration didn’t have his back and he didn’t have to put up with that.

    So he didn’t.

  21. bcw bcw says

    My brother-in-law and the family just down the hill from me both got sick when their sons brought COVID into the home.

    Since it was a psychology class, the professor should have said “a prerequisite for the course is an understanding of the concept of empathy, demonstrated by a willingness to wear a mask to keep others safe. This is a mandatory requirement and if not met means ejection from the course.”

    I’m sad you your college was only willing to go as far as a mask requirement, many colleges have made vaccination mandatory as well.

  22. wzrd1 says

    One elementary school in Georgia is closed, secondary to one teacher infecting 27, two parents and the remainder, students.
    Still, to paraphrase one loser, “young people die, get over it”.
    Excuse me while I re-hone trust rusty…

  23. jrkrideau says

    @ 21 John Morales
    Good reading on that. He was ready and really pissed-off. Kudos to him.

    @ 22 bcw bcw
    Since it was a psychology class, the professor should have said “a prerequisite for the course is an understanding of the concept of empathy

    Bloody hell, have you ever met a psych prof? Most could not spell “empathy” without a spellchecker.

  24. dianne says

    Robert79 @11: As you may already be aware, the delta variant can be contracted and passed by fully vaccinated individuals. You are putting your students at risk by not wearing a mask and I hope you will reconsider.

    As a side note, if you’re using body language as part of your teaching, you’re as incomprehensible to your autistic students as you would be to your hearing impaired student if you wore an opaque mask.

  25. microraptor says

    dodecapode @10: If you have enough problems breathing that putting a thin piece of cloth over your mouth is something you can’t do, going anywhere where you might be exposed to a highly contagious and highly lethal respiratory virus seems like a poor idea.

  26. whheydt says

    Re: jkrideau @ #24 (referencing bcw bcw @ #22)…
    My take on psych profs has a story behind it. This will be kind of long, so please bear with me…

    In the summer of 1964, when I was between 10th and 11th grades, I spent a lot of time hanging around the San Diego State computer room, where one of my sisters was a student operator on their IBM 1620.

    That summer, a psych student was doing a research project. He had a machine that would show a series of lines, one at a time, with three letters and three numbers. Then it would show just the letters and the subject was supposed to provide the corresponding numbers. Basically, a short term memory test.

    The student roped in all his family and friends to be test subjects, but he needed more to get a decent sample size. Turned out that one of his friends spent time hanging around the computer room and helped the guy doing the project by recruiting all the computer junkies.

    The problem came when the student doing the project plotted his data. He did NOT get the expected (approximately) normal distribution he (and his psych prof) were expecting. He got a double-humped curve. The prof told him to throw out the data, because it was clearly invalid, and start over.

    Even at that age, I knew that was the wrong way to deal with unexpected results. The results were a clear pointer that there was something worth investigating (were people good at that sort of pattern matching drawn to computer work, or did working with computers make you good at that sort of pattern matching…inquiring minds, and all that). But, no, the psych prof made him throw his data out.

  27. unclestinky says

    I have noticed that the prices for N95 masks has actually fallen to something not quite so painful and one of those, properly fitted, would be better insurance against getting infected. You’d probably need to be clean-shaven though.

  28. garnetstar says

    robert79 @11, don’t be foolish. There are antivaxxers and antimaskers who were telling themselves the same sorts of stories, who are dead now.

    In addition to a transparent mask, bring a laptop or i-device to class and put it on the podium. Turn on captions in your Zoom settings (on their website) and turn on a Zoom meeting during your lectures.

    The video doesn’t need to be any good, but the recording will caption the audio. She can review that.

  29. garnetstar says

    And, @11, I taught 40 students all last spring in a mask. They all learned mighty fine, did as well as all other times I’ve taught the class.

    If you can’t learn to convey emotion with your eyes, look up Tyra Banks, check out old episodes of America’s Next Top Model, and learn to “smize”. If fashion models can learn it, you can too.

  30. garnetstar says

    Sorry to keep going, but robert79 @11, have you ever seen one of those “emotion in the eyes” tests? They are the most reliable indicator of facial expressions that are known in the field.

    You are shown a series of pictures, all races and genders, of people’s eyes only. Then, there are five emotions under each photo, you must select which emotion the person is feeling, just from seeing their eyes. I got 48 out of 50 correct.

    So, no lame excuses. Facial expessions convey emotions very largely through the eyes, which your students can see. “I’m healthy” is what all the other antimaskers delusion was too.

    Read and article yesterday about a guy who caught Delta from standing in line to pay, for just a few minutes, in an outdoor farmer’s market. That’s how contagious it is.

  31. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Georgia, a state with a spineless, stupid Republican governor.

    Brian Kemp was smart and assertive enough to get himself elected Secretary of State and to use that position to steal the governorship.

    Please stop making excuses for that evil @ssh*le.

  32. TGAP Dad says

    I live in East Lansing, and just driving around today gave me an ill sense of foreboding. The sidewalks and streets were crowded with unmasked college-aged people. The delta variant is surging in my area now, and I’m absolutely certain that this will be a superspreader event. Guess I’ll stay hunkered down a while longer.

  33. unclefrogy says

    this thing will be over when it is over or we are gone and not before. it does not matter a tinkers dam what we want or like that we are uncomfortable or not, or “healthy” or not. This thing is just doing its best to reproduce using our metabolism and cells to do that.
    I doubt that it is a good thing in the long run that this virus can infect people who are vaccinated and not result in the way of symptoms because it seems to be able to reproduce very prolifically doing that and will probably continue to turnout different and new variants in the process.
    I do have a full beard and have had to modify it for a canister respirator when I need one and I use a cloth one when I go to some place “safe” but mostly I am able to just stay away from people which sucks but it is better then the grave. for now nothing lasts forever except death
    I would have never thought that there were so many people who have the same response to this as typhoid mary.

  34. says

    Can’t breathe with a mask on? She has serious health problems. I have chronic asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and have lost close to 30% of my lung capacity. I gasp and wheeze climbing a flight of stairs. I can breathe perfectly well wearing a mask. Hate the mask breath and mask acne though.