As of this week, NC State has officially concluded its move-out period, leaving a drastically reduced campus population. UNC-Chapel Hill had already moved most students off campus. These closures cap off a dramatic movement of student populations that has considerable implications for the whole state.
Within the course of a month, thousands of students moved from all over the state, country and world to congregate on UNC System campuses, only to have rapid virus outbreaks send them all right back home to potentially infect their families and communities. This mass migration is clearly a huge public health issue, and for that reason, health officials have encouraged students to quarantine for two weeks following their return home.
If the UNC System Board of Governors (BOG) is to be believed, the entirety of the blame for this disaster should rest on the shoulders of “a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly off campus,” in the words of UNC System President Peter Hans. Of course, this predictable and irresponsible scapegoating completely ignores that a plan which can be undermined by “a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly,” that is to say, a plan which requires every single student to behave perfectly for a whole semester, is not a workable plan.
Thus, as we see cases increase in the Triangle as a direct consequence of our brief foray into on-campus learning, we must remember the real organization at fault.
The way the fall 2020 semester has gone should surprise absolutely no one. Personally, not a single friend of mine believed we would make it to September, and several were convinced that we wouldn’t make it past the first week. One need only look to the norovirus outbreak in Alexander Hall my freshman year to see how easily a disease can spread in a residence hall.
Starting on the first day of classes, university staff and faculty sued the UNC System for not creating a safe working environment, including not providing enough personal protective equipment for housekeepers. The plaintiffs claim their health was not being protected in the decision to reopen housing and classroom environments.
Now, as a consequence of those decisions, we’ve seen a noticeable impact on coronavirus cases in the state — a trend which may continue if homeward bound students infect their families and communities. Younger people make up a majority of cases in both Wake and Durham counties, with cases for people between the ages of 18 to 24 having increased dramatically for Wake County in late August, the time when universities started classes.
Unfortunately, it’s too late to correct the decisions of the past, but as we move forward, we must keep in mind that the BOG failed to set a uniform policy to ensure the safety of its students in this time of crisis. As a colleague of mine argued recently, the BOG is hardly a democratic body. And as this outbreak has further shown, it simply cannot be trusted to make decisions which reflect the best interests of students in its schools, or more broadly, the people of North Carolina.