Tracy Schrems, assistant professor of adolescence education at St. Bonaventure University, made a great point.
“If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that people don’t like to follow the rules,” she told TAPinto Greater Olean in an email.
She’s right. As colleges and universities prepare to resume in-person instruction this fall, that thought should not leave the minds of leaders.
SBU will start its fall semester on Aug. 24, one week earlier than originally scheduled. Dr. Dennis DePerro, the university’s president, announced the change Tuesday. The new fall schedule also removes the Oct. 13-14 fall break. On-campus instruction will end on Nov. 24, and the fall semester will continue on Nov. 30 with three days of online-only instruction, a reading/study day and five days of online final exams.
What’s happening right now in America should be enough to give any institution of higher learning pause. COVID-19 is drastically spiking in all but two states. Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states seem to set new daily records as if it's a competition. College-aged adults are to blame; bars, night clubs, house parties, the cause of community transmission.
A few good examples have circulated through the news recently.
In East Lansing, Michigan, more than 80 people fell ill with COVID-19 after one person, who was symptomatic, went to a bar and hosted an after party. The genius partygoer got sicker as the days went on. Eventually, he tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t tell his close contacts until two days after the fact. Others went home to their parents, to work and to other businesses in the community.
A similar event took place in Florida, of course, and this probably isn’t the best example for the state. A group of 15 people, including one health care worker, went to a bar and contracted COVID-19. Seven employees at the bar also tested positive for the virus.
In Texas, 18 family members got sick after a surprise birthday party. In Minnesota, at least four bars have been linked to outbreaks. Just recently, Florida and Texas decided to close all bars and limit restaurant dining. It’s too late, though. The picture has already been painted.
Why not think a similar picture can be painted at St. Bonaventure University this fall? Doesn’t a night at The Burton or The Other Place and a slew of house parties sound good right about now? Most students haven’t seen their college friends in months. At the end of the day, almost everyone knows how college works. Even when the pandemic was ramping up across New York in March and April, many young adults continued to ignore social distancing measures, especially those who had off-campus residences.
After SBU caught wind of off-campus behavior in late March at the beginning of the pandemic and the university's shut down, DePerro issued a statement condemning the recklessness:
I have an extremely urgent message to our students still living off campus who continue to ignore what the rest of the nation is being asked to do: keeping their distance from one another. Social distancing is one of the most critical components in the efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Parties, whether they’re inside or outside, are blatant violations of New York state mandates that went into effect Sunday. Local police and have the authority to break up large gatherings and will continue to do so.
Sure. New York is on a great trend after months of hardship. In fact, New York is one of the two states that isn’t seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases right now. Strict precautions were followed. The curve, which once seemed impossible to flatten, was demolished. According to statistics from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, of the 46,428 tests conducted in New York State on Sunday, 391, or 0.84 percent, were positive. There were only seven unfortunate fatalities.
Large parties or congregations at establishments still shouldn't be on anyone's radar. While most SBU students reside in New York, many others come from different states and parts of the world. Further, nobody should assume they are negative for COVID-19 until proven otherwise.
As all have seen, things can change quickly, especially if people become complacent in following strict health and safety measures.
Right now, it’s unclear what precautions SBU officials will make mandatory on campus. Reconfiguring spaces to ensure social distancing can be practiced and requiring masks will surely be among them.
TAPinto Greater Olean received comment from a number of SBU faculty members and students recently. Many professors said they would feel safe resuming in-person instruction; others didn’t. Students felt the same way.
Most concerns voiced weren’t about on-campus precautions, though. The activities and behaviors students choose to participate in away from classrooms, dining facilities and other campus buildings concern many.
SBU can’t control what happens off campus, but it can make one thing clear: It’s going to take a community effort to keep students and faculty members virus free on and off campus.
Young adults can do whatever they wish. Nobody will be there to hold their hands. Go to that crowded watering hole? Fine. Go to that shoulder-to-shoulder house party? Go right ahead. What students should be mindful of is this: Irresponsible actions will have consequences. COVID-19 is still out there, and it can have serious health impacts on healthy young adults.
“I think the last thing any student wants — especially after being trapped at home for the last 6 months — is for them to potentially be responsible for an outbreak because they were irresponsible, and for campus to have to be shut down again,” Tom Missel, SBU’s chief communications officer wrote in an email.
This won’t be a normal school year. That much should be clear from the beginning. It’s up to students to act responsibly. Mess with fire? The burns will follow. Use other states’ wrongs as a measuring stick. All it takes is one ill person to start an outbreak. The flood gates can open at any time. Assuming everyone is negative for COVID-19 isn’t how the campus community should think this school year.
Returning to campus will be exciting, but it’s no reason to let reality slip through the cracks.