Editor’s note: The statistics in this letter are as of Sept. 6, 2020. Cases have since increased.
Before the semester began, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln administration had a decision to make, and no lack of evidence to base that decision off of. They could either bring students back on campus, fill the residence halls and enable your usual college partying, or they could stop the spread of coronavirus. As we had seen on other college campuses across the country, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of Notre Dame, the best efforts of school administrations were not able to fully contain the disease and forced a reversion to online classes. UNC had even started to clear out the residence halls after multiple clusters were reported in them.
This is not to say that the UNL administration is the only at-fault party here. Of course, students should be responsible enough to avoid large gatherings when possible and follow the relatively simple guidelines of the university and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as displayed by other universities, that is wishful thinking. Anyone could have predicted that we would have an outbreak, and those predictions have been made — who doesn’t have a running bet of when the campus will close down?
This foreseeable outbreak is borne out in the data released by the university. After only three weeks of our fall semester, there were 383 positive cases on campus. Even more damning is that only 2,238 tests have been administered. Using the 23,502 students from the Spring 2020 semester, you find that only about 9.5% of students have been tested, and we nearly have 400 positives. How many cases are we missing because of a lack of mandatory testing?
The decision to forego mandatory testing is the most confusing one to me. Given the relatively stealthy nature of this disease, the university higher-ups must know that many cases will slip through unnoticed, with affected individuals going to class unaware that they are spreading a potentially fatal sickness. If they were dead-set on having in person classes, beyond masks and hand sanitizer, testing all students should have been a top priority. Instead, we are working with an almost entirely incomplete view of the spread of coronavirus on campus, and even that view looks bad just one week in.
The coverage of all the college outbreaks has focused on huge, irresponsible parties, where students predictably flaunt social distancing, mask wearing and common sense. But that belies another culprit — the university administrations that did not think this through, enabling hundreds more cases. The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska president recently wrote to students that “We cannot refute the reality of this pandemic.”
Sadly, the UNL administration already has.