UIS is Risking Lives in Exchange for its Funding

United in Safety. This is the ironic motto of the University of Illinois Springfield during this year’s global pandemic. Months ago, before six million confirmed coronavirus cases and the death of 184,000 Americans (and counting), the entire U of I system bit the bullet and closed its doors to its near 90,000 students. The university system then understood the dangers of having thousands of young adults in close proximity to one another and decided to send them home. We quarantined, we practiced social distancing and we continued our education online – just like everyone else in the United States. We were taught that we were doing our part to keep ourselves and everyone else safe, but the University of Illinois system has seemingly forgotten this.

Now it’s time for the 2020 semester to start, and the pandemic is only projected to worsen this fall. Before classes had even begun, UIS found 10 of its students to be infected with coronavirus. The current system for saliva-based testing has already been overworked by the large quantity of samples, causing a multi-day delay of the results for thousands of tests, eventually returning inconclusive. And to top it off, the current system in place relies solely on the cooperation of students. I’m sorry to state the obvious, but young adults are not exactly known for their abstinence from risk-taking behaviors. The likelihood that students will follow all the precautions directed by the university are slim to none, especially when said precautions interfere with the prospect of having a good time. Look at the University of Alabama where 1,200 of its students have tested positive for COVID in their first week because of bar-crawling. Whether it’s congregating with several friends at an east side apartment or choosing to go out to local Springfield bars, it will only take one person to make UIS a coronavirus hotspot.

Now, I understand that the university practically needs the exorbitant income associated with housing, food and fees, but I ask: at what cost does this come to the local community? The flaw with the current testing system is that it can only test those within the UIS campus, which puts my hometown of Springfield at risk. Here’s one possible deadly scenario: a coronavirus-infected student who is not aware of their condition, chooses to spend a night out on the town. They feel absolutely fine and only have the occasional sneeze. They also normally have allergies in the fall so they don’t think anything of it. This individual goes to a local restaurant to get dinner with their friends, takes off their mask to eat and then exposes everyone in that restaurant to the virus. UIS will eventually test that student, find them positive and then have them quarantine. It is notable that this logic of testing disregards all of those outside of the U of I system, which defeats the purpose of mitigating the spread altogether.

We quarantined to save the lives of others. We kept young people away from each other to stop the spread. We understood that we can’t trust young people to abstain from risk-taking behaviors, because risk-taking is what they do best! Yet, here we are, pretending as if the house isn’t on fire and that we aren’t stoking its flames. Universities all over the country are pretending this virus doesn’t exist anymore, and it is that willful ignorance that will cost people’s lives. Money has an insane amount of control over our society, and I am disappointed that our university plays a part in that absurdity. So please, wear your mask, socially distance and realize that everyone’s heath relies solely on student participation of these precautions.