August 21, 2020 12:00pm

Many worry about wider health hazard of reopening universities. Will COVID-19 derail other schools' plans?

Lexington Power Poll members are concerned that university students returning to campus could pose health hazards for the wider community. They speculate about how long public schools will remain online, and how long private schools can stay open. But most think their own companies and organizations are handling the pandemic well.

Photo of Tom Eblen
Lexington, KY Correspondent

The vast majority of Lexington Power Poll members are concerned that students returning to the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University campuses could pose a COVID-19 hazard to surrounding neighborhoods and the community at large — and more than half of respondents are “very concerned.”


Most poll members also expect public schools to continue classes virtually at least through the winter, and they are skeptical religious and private schools that recently returned to in-person classes will be able to continue that for the entire school year.


Power Poll is not a scientific poll. But because it asks questions of metro Lexington’s leaders and influencers, it offers a fascinating, bipartisan insight into the thoughts and opinions of many of the people who run Central Kentucky.  This month’s survey drew responses from 110 of 170 active poll members, or 65 percent. (Only members who respond to one or more surveys over several months remain active and are surveyed.)


The University of Kentucky, metro Lexington’s largest employer and a campus with more than 20,000 undergraduates, resumed in-person classes this week amid an ambitious program of widespread testing, requirements for masking and social distancing and other safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. UK has made social distancing off-campus part of its Student Code of Conduct, and UK’s fraternities have decided to do their fall rush online. So far, more than 300 students have tested positive, and an undisclosed number are being housed in isolation dorms.


Transylvania University, whose urban campus has nearly 1,000 undergraduates, also is taking aggressive measures as it resumes classes.


Still, there have been reports of off-campus parties and other gatherings than have raised concerns among the universities’ neighbors that young people’s behavior could pose a health hazard. Power Poll members agree, with 56 respondents (51 percent) “very concerned” and 40 respondents (36 percent) “moderately concerned.” Only 14 respondents (13 percent) said they were not very concerned.



Power Poll members had less definite opinions about the decisions public and private primary and secondary schools systems have made about reopening for in-person classes.


At the strong urging of Gov. Andy Beshear, public school systems in metro Lexington are resuming classes only virtually for now. Asked how long they thought public schools would continue with distance-learning, 35 Power Poll members (32 percent) thought it would last through the fall. Thirty-three people (30 percent) thought it would last through winter, and another 13 (12 percent) thought public schools would be out of classrooms for the entire school year. But 29 members (26 percent) said they didn’t know what might happen.



Many religious and other private schools decided to return to classes in person against the governor's recommendation. How long will they be able to continue that without COVID-19 infections forcing them to go online?  The largest group of poll respondents — 47 people (43 percent) — didn’t have a guess. Of those who did, 31 people (28 percent) thought they would remain open through the fall, four (4 percent) thought they would continue through the winter and 28 (25 percent) thought they could continue in-person classes for the entire school year.



The survey’s last question asked Power Poll members how they thought their company or organization was handling the challenges of COVID-19. A strong majority — 77 people (70 percent) thought it was being handled very well, while 22 people (20 percent) said “Ok, but not great.” Only two people (2 percent) thought their company or organization wasn’t handling the pandemic well, and nine people (8 percent) didn’t have an opinion.



Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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