As have peers in higher education leadership, my colleagues at the University of Dubuque and I have been trying to manage the safety, health, contingency planning and financial ramifications of COVID-19.

We have learned a lot in five months. This virus is catastrophic to higher education. Colleges and universities will close. Thousands of professionals — faculty and staff — have lost or will lose their jobs.

And students will remain relatively healthy.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Did you say “healthy?” Yes — I said healthy.

Unlike the mid-20th century battle with polio, which was particularly virulent on the young, we are fortunate that the probability of a high school or college-age student dying from COVID-19 is extremely low. According to the Centers for Disease Control, to date, there have been 142 COVID-19 deaths for this demographic nationally, while there have been 90,360 COVID-19-related deaths for those who are over 65.

Thus, COVID-19 is only a minimal threat to high school and college students — unlike suicide, drug and alcohol addiction. A recent study found the impact of this extended period of isolation has increased the death-by-suicide rate among high school and college students by over 350%.

So, given this empirical evidence, let us inoculate ourselves with a dose of common sense as we await an effective and safe vaccine. Here are a few thoughts:

1. 15-24-year-olds need to be together. Their brains require socialization, and the impact of extended periods of isolation is as deadly to them as exposure to COVID-19 is to the 65+ demographic. So, please, policy makers, for their health, let these young people participate in class, athletics, band, choir, debate and student government with appropriate PPE and social distancing (see below). Let them play football, soccer and their trumpets. I, and others like me, will observe social distancing and wear a face covering in order for them be together.

2. Let teachers and coaches teach. There are steps they can implement to safeguard themselves while protecting the brain health of their 15-24-year-old students. We who teach and profess can exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and take vitamins to maintain a healthy immune system.

Every student can disinfect their personal space before beginning class. We can continue to improve our synchronous learning platforms to increase our physical distancing, when appropriate. As a non-negotiable, every person in each classroom can wear a face covering out of consideration for the vulnerable, whether that be an older teacher/professor or a classmate who is managing diabetes, kidney disease, COPD, sickle cell or some other health condition.

3. Let’s not forget that the original goal of public health officials was to “mitigate and flatten the curve” to keep emergency rooms and hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. While we must remain vigilant to understand the impact of COVID-19 spread in our state and communities, the goal of curve flattening has been accomplished in many (but not all) states so successfully that some hospitals are now in serious financial peril. The goal has never been to eliminate the spread of the virus but to temper it. Students will get the virus, and most will not notice it. Which brings me back to No. 1.

4. The 15-24-year-old demographic is dying — not because of the COVID-19, but because of the deleterious effects of extended isolation. It’s called suicide and addiction. Their brains require social stimulation to keep them healthy as much as my underactive thyroid requires Synthroid to keep me moving. Our current policies are inadvertently killing them.

Everyone has a job to do. Let’s all be smart and adopt the following mantra: Practice common sense — good hygiene, social distancing and wear a face covering for yourself and others.

And I look forward to seeing you — from six feet away — under the Friday night lights! And if you don’t feel safe being out in public, please stay home. For your health, and for the health of our children.

Bullock has been president of the University of Dubuque since 1998. His email address is jbullock@dbq.edu.