The danger in realspace classes during the current pandemic is almost entirely to professors and staff, since students who catch Covid, unless they have some significant medical problem, have a very low chance of dying from it — as best I can tell under one in a thousand. For an adult over 65, which many professors nowadays are, the chance is much higher, perhaps two or three percent. The numbers are very uncertain because we do not know how many undiagnosed cases there are, but the relative risk is at least an order of magnitude greater, perhaps two orders of magnitude, for the older group.
That suggests a policy intermediate between realspace and VR classes — students free to interact in realspace, faculty in VR. Classes work just as last year except that the professor has been replaced by a video screen. The class can see the professor on the screen, the professor can see the class via a video camera in the front of the classroom. It would be the same approach by which I once gave a talk in the country of Georgia from my office in San Jose. Judging by my experience, it works almost as well as a live talk.
Not all students or all teachers are the same. In an improved version of what I describe, students who are at serious risk could attend virtually, with the feed to the screen also feeding to their computer and with the option to ask questions of the professor over the internet. Teachers who are not at serious risk, such as graduate student teaching assistants, could if they wished attend in realspace, which would help for classes that involved more than verbal interaction.
The last year I taught at Santa Clara University, one of my classes consisted mostly of Saudi LLM students, including a women with whom I had some long conversations about how things worked in her country. A college is either for men or for women. A women's college not only has no male students, it has no males at all inside its walls. The only way a male professor can teach in it is over video.
If the Saudis can do it, surely we can.
One problem that remains is the risk of infected students passing the virus on to parents or, worse still, grandparents. To deal with that, isolate students for a week at the end of the school year, then test them to make sure they are not carrying the virus. Quarantine any who are. Students who have gotten the virus and recovered are free to go home for Christmas and spring break.