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Don’t be UNC

This year, more than ever, college students returning to campus will be tested. Not only tested for COVID-19 but also tested for their maturity to follow the health guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other students, their professors, university staff, and the community that hosts them.

UNC-Chapel Hill was in the news two weeks ago when a video surfaced of a large group of students walking out of an off-campus house party without masks, not socially distanced and in clear violation of the university’s ban on large gatherings. This was on August 5th, just two days after the first students started moving back into their dorms. Later the administration took disciplinary action and kicked three students out for not following safety protocols.

Two clusters of UNC students came down with COVID last week and five were sent to isolated housing prepared for students that needed to quarantine from the community. According to the UNC Carolina Together dashboard it looks as if there was not a lot of testing in the weeks leading up to last week which leads me to believe that there were lots of asymptomatic students mingling in the community that revealed themselves once full-scale testing began.

With available beds for those that need to isolate themselves running dangerously low, UNC-Chapel Hill announced today that they are sending students home to avoid further contact and spread.

After only one week of campus operations, with growing numbers of clusters and insufficient control over the off-campus behavior of students (and others), it is time for an off-ramp. We have tried to make this work, but it is not working.

Barbara Rimer, Dean of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Public Health

Both my kids are moving into college this week. I hope the closing of UNC serves as an example of how seriously the actions of a few can spin out of control and impact the entire student population.

Boston University has an extensive program for returning students that includes an on-campus lab that can process 5,000 test results every 24-hours shared on a public dashboard. The students have launched an online awareness campaign with a name designed to be provocative. Daily self-reporting of symptoms and regular testing are required and, if you miss either, your wifi followed by access card stop working until you eventually are asked to leave campus. All results are collected into an app which students use to check in their locations throughout the day. This same app also notifies students if anyone with positive test results was in proximity and will automatically limit the mobility of potentially infected students. All of this is at great cost to the university. They are not bringing kids back to school for the money.

Clark University sent test kits to all students at home a couple of weeks ago to prevent asymptomatic carriers from coming to campus until they can show a negative result. This week Clark is welcoming students and, like BU, are requiring every student to sign a Commitment to follow safety protocols or risk “dis-enrollment.” The university offered all students an online course over the summer, Pandemics. From Horror to Hope, to put our current situation into perspective, and hosted discussion groups for students including tips on how to politely tell someone to put on their mask on (and how to acknowledge someone’s request without sounding snarky). In full transparency, and to help put anxious parents and surrounding community at ease, Clark is publishing all test results on a public website.

All parents want the best for their children. We want them to experience all that college has to offer. We also want them to stay safe. It’s easy to question the trade off in sending our kids to live together during a pandemic. I have to keep reminding myself that they are not kids anymore, they are young adults, and there will be valuable lessons to learn from working together to “stop the spread.”

Universities are places of learning and innovation. This year, students will learn to live and study together in a time of pandemic. They will develop a culture and society that works in our “new normal.” Unlike the UNC community, successful schools will collectively enforce acceptable behavior and redefine what is cool. We will have much to learn from these pioneers.

2 replies on “Don’t be UNC”

A bit of sobering reality from the president of Northeastern. COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic, it is endemic and we need to learn to live with the virus, not avoid it. “Universities need to take control of the virus — and show our communities how to do the same.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-virus-isnt-going-away-thats-why-campuses-need-to-reopen/2020/08/18/28810dd0-e17d-11ea-8181-606e603bb1c4_story.html

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