Earlier this month, omicron positivity rates in New York City hit 500% of last winter’s peak despite wider vaccine availability, higher vaccination rates and mask compliance. While Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have reported that cases are declining rapidly, NYU’s positivity rate is still around 10%. COVID-19’s grip on the country has prompted institutions like Columbia University to shift to remote instruction until positivity rates drop to an acceptable level. NYU, on the other hand, is proceeding with its planned in-person start to the semester, with new requirements like booster shots and high-grade masks. With a 99% vaccination rate among students, faculty and university employees, as well as the increasing likelihood that COVID-19 will become akin to a seasonal virus, the university is implementing scientific guidance through stricter health measures while preserving an in-person learning environment. 

However, the email that announced the reopening only says that professors were merely encouraged to offer remote learning options, with Associate Vice President Rafael Rodriguez stating only that there “should” be “sufficient flexibility to permit you to keep up with your course work remotely.” This phrasing is unacceptably noncommittal — NYU “should” instead mandate that professors offer a virtual learning option. 

Previous WSN reporting has found that in-person classes can preclude the possibility of social distancing and can endanger the lives of students. Without a required remote alternative, students who test positive could feel pressured to ignore their symptoms and attend class, turning lectures into superspreader events. 

WSN has also confirmed that some NYU schools and programs, like the School of Law, have already mandated remote learning options. But these various schools do not operate in their own bubbles — the policies at the College of Arts and Sciences will impact COVID-19 positivity rates at Stern, and vice-versa. We cannot afford to act as if NYU schools don’t affect one another when we share classrooms, a campus and dorms. Rather than a patchwork of varying guidelines, university administration must issue a universal requirement that any student can access a remote learning option. 

While most college students are at a relatively low risk of severe illness from COVID-19, for some, remote options are a life-or-death issue. There are over 3,500 NYU students with disabilities, and many of them could face life-threatening complications if they contract COVID-19. President Andrew Hamilton can help protect the lives of NYU’s immunocompromised and disabled students by requiring that professors offer remote options. 

[Read more: Opinion: NYU’s reopening is ableist]

Even if students are not immunocompromised, long COVID-19 remains a risk. For many individuals, COVID-19’s side effects persist long after their last positive test. More than one in three COVID-19 patients report symptoms for three to six months after first contracting the virus. This chronic illness is still not well understood, but a forced return to in-person learning places everyone at risk.

Yes, we need to learn to live with the virus — but we can do so without giving it more chances to spread. The university could mandate that professors offer a remote option for all students across all NYU schools. NYU should be commended for the additional health and safety measures it is incorporating into its reopening, but the university should remember the most important measure: a remote learning option. 

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