Over the past several months, schools and colleges across the country have had to make heart-wrenching decisions about whether and how to reopen. Should they have any in-person activities? If so, when? And at what point—and with what adjustments—is it safe to return to fully in-person activities? If there is a flare-up in COVID-19 cases, should we scale back in-person activities? The debates over these questions have become rancorous. I argue below that this is because the questions themselves are very difficult to answer, and then offer some ideas on how to make the decisions easier and better.
Let me just start by assuming that everyone has the same, seemingly simple, goal: helping people live as long as possible and minimizing pain and suffering from the crisis. Even if we agree that this, or something similar, is the right goal, there are still six reasons why it would be difficult to decide what to do.