Student newspaper begs schools to take responsibility for COVID-19 outbreaks: 'Don't make us write obituaries'

Elise Solé
·6 min read
A student paper covering news from the University of Notre Dame (depicted), Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College begged school administrators to take the coronavirus pandemic more seriously. (Photo: Getty Images)
A student paper covering news from the University of Notre Dame (depicted), Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College begged school administrators to take the coronavirus pandemic more seriously. (Photo: Getty Images)

College students in Indiana implored their classmates and administrators to act responsibly during the coronavirus pandemic, in a bold newspaper editorial titled, “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

The Friday critique was published by The Observer, a student-run daily paper that covers news across the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College in South Bend, Ind., all of which opened for in-person classes on Aug. 10 and have since dealt with COVID-19 infections.

The editorial suggested that school officials were blaming the infections on students attending off-campus parties. Other schools have been cracking down on partying — according to ABC News, Iowa State University reprimanded students for gathering together and Syracuse University and Purdue University issued suspensions for partying.

“While this isn’t entirely misplaced, it has been used to deflect responsibility from the very administrations that insisted they were prepared for us to return to campus,” read The Observer. “Clearly, they were not.”

It further called out alleged fumbles in “testing, contact tracing and isolation and quarantine accommodations” and asked for better communication in regard to infections and hospitalizations. “At Notre Dame, the almost two-week gap between the return to campus and the implementation of surveillance testing, scheduled to begin today, represents a gross oversight on the part of the administration and has put the health and safety of the tri-campus and South Bend communities in serious danger.”

The students acknowledged a role in spreading the virus: “We — as students, faculty, staff and administrators — need to share responsibility for the outbreak on our hands. We longed to return to South Bend while in quarantine last semester. Now, we are at risk of hurting the community we’ve come to know and love.”

On Tuesday, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, who in May said that opening school was “worth the risk” in a New York Times story, suspended in-person classes until Sept. 2 due to 147 infections. “The virus is a formidable foe,” he said in a press release, pointing to off-campus parties as a main source of transmission. An updated university dashboard shows 336 positive cases since Aug. 3.

In response to The Observer article, a Notre Dame spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, “... We have had no shortage of tests, and most students report satisfaction with isolation and quarantine arrangements.” The school has also boosted their contact tracing efforts which identified increases in positivity rates. “There were times when our health center phone banks were inundated, resulting in delays in returning calls to students,” said the spokesperson. “We resumed surveillance testing in random samples among students today, which will continue in conjunction with diagnostic testing.”

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JudeAnne Wilson Hastings, the associate vice president for communications and development at Holy Cross, tells Yahoo Life that two students are infected with COVID-19 and 22 people are in quarantine. Students monitor their temperatures each day, wear masks and stay out of each other’s dorm rooms. A 10-person contact tracing team assists COVID-positive students in the campus isolation rooms with meal delivery and other needs.

“[Regarding] concern about transparency, we just announced our positive cases to our community,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We want to keep everybody informed without compromising anyone’s medical situation.”

Saint Mary’s College, which reported 11 positive cases since Aug. 3 per its school dashboard, offers face-to-face, hybrid and online models. Students wear face coverings in public spaces, even outside, and record their health statuses before attending class. This week, President Katie Conboy urged students to stay on campus to avoid “the trends on other campuses” adding, “We are alarmed by what we are seeing, and it has us on high alert.”

A spokesperson from Saint Mary’s tells Yahoo Life, “We appreciate the concerns raised by The Observer editorial board...while we are part of a tri-campus community, we operate independently from our neighboring institutions...”

The Observer editorial implored all school members “to do everything within their power to approach this virus in an appropriate and serious manner. Otherwise, we fear the worst is yet to come.”

It continued, “Don’t make us write a tri-campus employee’s obituary. Don’t make us write an administrator’s obituary. Don’t make us write a custodian’s obituary. Don’t make us write a dining hall worker’s obituary. Don’t make us write a professor’s obituary. Don’t make us write a classmate’s obituary. Don’t make us write a friend’s obituary. Don’t make us write a roommate’s obituary. Don’t make us write yours.”

Editors at The Observer did not reply to Yahoo Life’s requests for comment. Senior student and editor-in-chief Maria Leontaras told CNN, "We wanted to make the messaging clear that we all have a role to play in keeping the tri-campus community safe. There are more people here than just young students who could possibly recover from the virus."

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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