NC State professor writes letter to chancellor warning of COVID-19 dangers with face-to-face classrooms

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- An NC State professor is warning the university administration that in-person classes could be devastating in the fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Katherine Mack, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department, wrote a 2,000-word letter to Chancellor Randy Woodson that says encouraging departments to hold more face-to-face classes and hybrid courses is a mistake, despite the precautions that the university intends to implement.

"Masks are not perfect protection, if you're in the same room, as a lot of other people for an hour and a half." Mack said.

In the detailed letter, the two-year professor uses the latest research to question the effectiveness of social distancing and the use of masks within a close-quarters classroom.

In addition, she points out the dangers of being the cause of a "super spread." This is a scenario where a large group of people contract the virus and spread it to the larger community.

"One party or one athletic event or, potentially, one class could cause an outbreak that affects many, many people that can spread a lot, and we've seen that in other places," Mack added.

Mack started teaching physics at NC State in 2018. Although she's not teaching any courses in the fall, she felt compelled to stand up for concerned faculty members and students.

"I don't know that everything is set in stone, and so, I would like more information on how the plans are evolving. I would like more information on what steps are being taken. What steps are being made?" Mack said.

An hour south of Raleigh, good friends Kayneisha Jackson and Mekaba Allen are set to return to Fayetteville State University. Both friends are living on campus and taking a mixture of online and in-class courses next month.

Kayneisha tells ABC 11 she's not too concerned but hopes people follow the FSU's guidelines. "I just hope everybody will be safe and that everybody will follow the procedures correctly."

Meanwhile, Allen has some concerns but is happy to spend her senior year enrolled in some physical classes. "I think it's cool that we're able to have in-class. I like participating and learning that way."

Mack says she understands NC State is in a tough position that could entail major financial loss; however, she hopes they can find a way to ensure the safety of others in the coming weeks.

The professor is still awaiting a response from the chancellor, but university officials sent ABC11 a statement regarding her letter.

Brad Bohlander, the NC State's chief communications officer, said:

"University leadership continues to work with faculty and the larger campus community to finalize fall planning. NC State is fortunate to have some of the world's best faculty and we value their input as we prepare for the fall semester".

With COVID-19 looming over universities nationwide, Mack believes what's in place now won't be the case by next month.
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