COVID CLIMBING IN NUMBERS

Above all else, students want their university to care about them - to put their well-being and safety first.

With a pandemic engrossing the country, a natural disaster ravaging Southwest Louisiana and millions suffering economically from the fallout of 2020, that sentiment rings true now more than ever. These events crept into students’ lives unexpectedly, and we looked to the University for security and understanding.

The issues our administration has been forced to deal with have been enormous and varied, and it deserves our compassion for the difficulty of the task that lies before it. I don’t envy the position it’s in.

There are areas in which the University is falling rapidly behind. It must course-correct now to keep students and employees safe.

On Wednesday, the number of reported coronavirus cases on campus rose to 768. In last week’s weekly press briefing, Interim President Tom Galligan said there had been 4,442 self-reported tests, putting several alarming facts into context.

First, given the latest data, the University’s positivity rate is a whopping 16%—more than three times higher than the rest of Louisiana.

This fact reveals a simple, but powerful revelation: the University is not conducting anywhere near enough tests. A high positivity rate is indicative of low community testing; for reference, the World Health Organization urges communities and states to strive for a positivity rate under 10%.

With relatively few tests and a high positivity rate, it is clear the current estimate of 768 is far from the real figure.

This cuts at the core issue in the University’s testing strategy: voluntary testing is not enough, especially when young people with the virus are primarily asymptomatic. And, to put it bluntly, students who put themselves in high-risk situations, such as parties with no masks or social distancing, are probably not the same students who would get tested out of their own volition for the common good. (Of course, students engaging in high-risk behaviors do not make up the totality of COVID-19 cases on campus, but they are certainly more likely to contract the virus.)

And opening up Tiger Stadium to 25,000 fans when our COVID-19 data is about as accurate as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar? It’s clearly unsafe, and it makes you wonder whether that decision was really made with students’ well-being at the forefront.

The University must change tracks by implementing mandatory testing for all students living or attending classes on campus. The coronavirus is an invisible enemy, but the University can at least try to know the scope of what it’s up against.

Students must hold the University accountable for its decisions. Likewise, the University must also hold students accountable for their irresponsible behaviors; students who test positive for coronavirus and fail to disclose that information to the University should be subject to a disciplinary hearing.

This virus is a matter of life and death. Tigers cannot fail their fellow members of the campus community by knowingly putting them at risk. If they choose to abdicate that responsibility, there should be consequences.

The troubling idea of students not reporting cases to the University is another issue that would be put at rest by a regular, mandatory testing program for every person on campus.

Each day, the reality of this year becomes a little more strange and frightening. The news is full of grief, loss and restlessness. This is not the year or semester any of us imagined. Now more than ever, we need transparency, strength and compassion from the University.

Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.

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