Many summer opportunities have been cancelled or put on hold, but what do Yale experts think students should consider if their summer plans are set to go ahead?

It can be confusing to understand public health directives and plan for summer in the midst of a global pandemic. The News reached out to Yale research and public health professionals to understand what students should consider to make informed decisions about their summer plans. Michael Crair, vice provost for research and professor of neuroscience, recommended students still pursue these opportunities unless they present themselves as unrealistic for health safety reasons due to the pandemic. At the same time, Edward Kaplan, professor of operations research and public health, also recommended taking stronger precautions and searching for alternatives.

“I would still encourage students to consider opportunities to work in labs and pursue in-person internships,” Crair said. He continued that predictions about the coronavirus spread and its effect in different regions of the country are unreliable, so plans should be kept unless health concerns arise.

Still, Kaplan stressed that students with internships in areas where coronavirus has high prevalence, and even areas where there may currently not be high transmission, should be more cautious. 

“In regions with few cases now, you have to ask whether those cases are increasing, for this has proven explosive in countries around the world,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan encourages students to contemplate what it means to work in areas with high coronavirus transmission, paying attention to the possible infection that is more likely in high-risk areas. According to Kaplan, most students can expect a mild course of illness that is not life-threatening, unless they have a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to coronavirus symptoms. In these cases, the virus can be extremely dangerous to one’s health.

“If you are contemplating working in an area where transmission is high, even if arrangements are in place to make the work itself safe, you need to worry about everyday precautions,” Kaplan said. “[You need to] also ask yourself how you would manage day to day in such an environment, and also how you would manage if you did become infected in this same and perhaps unfamiliar environment away from your normal sources of support.”

Both Crair and Kaplan recommend pursuing remote, virtual internships as an alternative to canceled internships or internships in high coronavirus transmission areas that are not yet canceled. According to Kaplan, handling an online internship is not only safer but also a skill in itself worth mastering.

Kaplan recognized that working online may not be feasible for many jobs. Thus, for opportunities in highly infected regions that are not cancelled, seriously weighing the benefits and drawbacks of working in person becomes vital. He said that students may be able to negotiate safer working conditions, such as lower within-office density or lesser travel if required, to lessen risk of exposure.

“Ultimately it is a balancing act between the benefits of whatever work experience you have lined up, recognizing that for obvious reasons it won’t be what you had initially bargained for, and your risk tolerance for infection and its consequences, presuming that you take all reasonable precautions, including masking, social distancing, crowd avoidance, et cetera,” Kaplan said. “And, if you do not choose to work, what will you do instead, and will it be both fulfilling and safe?”

Public health professionals note the way public health measures are implemented will determine the risk of “second wave” or “rebound” coronavirus infections that may affect internship experiences in high-transmission areas. If restrictions are loosened too quickly without implementing other public health measures, coronavirus will spread more rampantly.

There has been some speculation that the virus will be less able to spread in hot summer weather, but Kaplan said there are more immediate steps that are more fundamental to curb the virus. Key to limiting spread is aggressive community screening to detect infections and to isolate those infected from those who are not. These implementation techniques play a more critical role than temperature and humidity in curbing coronavirus spread, according to Kaplan.

“There are mixed views regarding whether rising temperature and humidity would have a dampening effect,” Kaplan said. “There are many warmer-climate countries facing serious outbreaks, and even if there were some dampening effect, it would not override the basic force of infection from returning reserved pools of susceptible persons into contact with unknowing infectious persons.” 

Kaplan notes that social distancing measures slow transmission but do not stop it altogether. It is, rather, the public health restrictions that do. Kaplan said that, although there is a rush to get back to normal life and jobs, epidemiological models agree that “lifting such restrictions too soon just resets the initial conditions of the outbreak.”

So, while Crair expressed optimism about the safety of students pursuing in-person jobs, Kaplan stressed the key public health concerns for students to consider when planning out their summer.

“Stay in close contact with your [internship or job] sponsor,” Crair said. “If an in-person internship turns out to be impossible due to safety concerns, speak with your sponsor about conducting a remote or virtual internship. In some fields, a ‘virtual’ internship would still be a great experience.”

LinkedIn, an employment-oriented social media platform, announced that the number of internship positions posted on their job boards has dropped 60 percent since March 1.

 

Katherine Du | katherine.du@yale.edu