LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico professor with a long history of studying viruses, believes students should be returning to campus for school. She even wrote an op-ed on the matter.

The New Mexico State University biology professor says being back on campus is what students really want and thinks keeping them away from a traditional college experience will do more harm than good. “People have a genuine need for social connection and interactions and I think campus is able to satisfy that in a safe way as per se going to a bar to have your interactions and then making foolish decisions about taking off your mask and then having a cluster of infections associated with the bar,” says Dr. Kathryn Hanley, Regents Professor of Biology.

Despite the rising number of cases among the college-age population students are set to return to campus for in-person classes in mid-August. They’ll also do online studies. Dr. Hanley sites a modeling study done by researchers at Cornell University that says if the right safeguards are in place students would be safer on campus than out in the community.

Hanley says this semester they are requiring masks at all times, they’ve reconfigured classrooms to allow for social distancing and they plan to screen and test students to look out for the virus. “We don’t expect to have no cases of sars coronavirus on campus that’s not a realistic expectation our goal is that campus doesn’t act as an engine of infections we don’t see rates of infection that are higher than rates of the surrounding area,” Hanley says.

Hanley says a lot of the responsibility will fall on students, especially those who live off-campus. “What we need from the students and what we hope to have the students is real buy-in, where they are acting responsibly because they recognize that they really love being on campus and they want to retain that privilege of being on campus and they understand they have to act responsibly to retain that,” Hanley says.

Right now Dona Ana county is seeing one of the biggest spikes in the state, with one COVID case for every 105 people for context, in Bernalillo County, there’s only one confirmed case for every 152 people. The University of New Mexico also plans on doing a hybrid learning model when school starts on August 7.