I’m sure we all know that we’re in the worst pandemic in a century by this point. From masks and social distancing, to dried-out hands from compulsive hand washing, the pandemic has touched every aspect of our lives and forced us to rethink something as simple as grabbing lunch with friends. We all miss something from the pre-pandemic times. I miss seeing friends without having to worry if they’re infected or if I’m infected. After so many months in quarantine, many want to go out and have fun and party, and understandably so. But, just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
The vast majority of SLU students are young and aren’t likely to have any severe complications from COVID-19. However, as more research comes out, it’s becoming increasingly evident that some COVID patients may face permanent illness from contracting the disease. We won’t know the full effects of this illness until years after the pandemic is over. Because of these unknowns, we have common-sense guidelines that we have to follow, most notably mandatory masks and symptom checks. These are put into place to protect the St. Louis community at large and to help keep classes in person for as long as possible. Many of us are not locals from the greater St. Louis area. We are guests of this city and we should respect those who live here by doing our best to stay healthy and not inadvertently facilitate the spread of COVID-19.
While we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, there appears to be holes in SLU’s pandemic plans at the moment that are a bit large. In an email sent to all students on Aug. 20, interim Provost Michael Lewis, Ph.D., stated that most people are following the school’s guidelines regarding COVID-19. The email paints a path for the future of the semester that forks into two directions, one being the continuation of in-person classes, and the other being sent home early because of an uncontrollable outbreak with staff members losing their jobs as a result. That same email says that the university knows students have gone to parties on and off-campus, left quarantine, crowded together in groups without masks, etc. This issue is not unique to SLU. The University of Alabama, UNC and Notre Dame are just a few of the universities that have had outbreaks in the past two weeks and the number of universities facing outbreaks continues to grow. If the university knows that a few students are going to ignore the COVID-19 outlines that we all have to adhere to, why has no action been taken to deter behavior like this besides a strongly worded email? For example, Tulane University in New Orleans has a similar student population to SLU’s. While their reopening plan is fairly similar to ours, their prevention plan is vastly different. It plainly states: “Sanctions for hosting parties or large gatherings may include suspension or expulsion from the university.” Other universities have taken similar actions, one of the most notable being Ohio State University suspending 200+ students for partying.
Even more recently, we got an email saying if we did the daily symptom check, we would have a chance to win a Starbucks card. This implies that not enough people are doing the daily symptom check. It’s most likely many students genuinely do forget in the morning rush to get to class and just need a gentle reminder to do it. This is a good way to encourage people to do the symptom check, but what happens if they do have symptoms and decide to leave their dorm or home? Only Student Health Services knows whether they have symptoms or not and at this time people who have symptoms could simply walk into a building on campus besides their dorm if they wanted to. In addition to symptom checks, the University could monitor wastewater from the residence halls. It was recently reported that the University of Arizona had detected traces of the coronavirus in one of their dorm’s sewage. Officials tested everyone in that dorm and found that two of their students unknowingly had COVID-19 and were asymptomatic. While we all should take as many precautions as possible, like following the mask mandate and doing the daily symptom check, there will inevitably be people who unknowingly get exposed to the virus. Would this method of early detection be feasible for SLU? Maybe. If it’s implemented, will it be costly? Probably.
While there is no right or wrong answer to how we should be conducting classes, handling this pandemic will be a struggle for everyone involved. No matter what the university does to keep an outbreak from happening and to protect students, faculty and staff, there will be financial strain at every corner. If we want to have in-person classes for as long as possible and protect those around us, everyone, including the university, needs to step up to the plate.