A Semester for Herd Immunity

An acute state of vigilance during the early days of the pandemic befit our lack of understanding. We were scared then because we didn’t know what we were dealing with, but by this point fear shouldn’t dictate our approach. Instead, we should discuss evidence and trade-offs. Reopening schools means putting more people at risk, but staying closed threatens the livelihoods of many university employees and other locals, diminishes the quality of students’ education, and delays much of the university’s research.

I’m inclined to let market entrepreneurs decide how to proceed. U.S. universities are dynamic institutions. Many could reopen for in-person classes for those students willing to come in, while simultaneously offering online courses for high-risk students and those who are simply risk-averse. No one would be forced back. A varied fee structure could also offer students more options: full tuition for on-campus schooling, half off for online-only.

America’s goal should be to achieve a state of herd immunity without suffering catastrophic damage. Allowing a lower-risk population of students to return to school seems a sensible step to begin that process. I’d like for my college to reopen in the fall, but that’s a conviction loosely held and based on limited information. As we learn more, the answer may become clearer.

—Pietro Moran, George Mason University, economics