Seven days after the UIS Journal editorial denouncing the University’s decision to return their students this fall (“UIS is Risking Lives in Exchange for its Funding”) the University of Illinois system found itself in the troubling spotlight of The New York Times. The renowned newspaper recognized the unusual attempt of Urbana-Champaign to push forward with in-person instruction with its article, “A University Had a Great Coronavirus Plan, but Students Partied On.” It identifies how the Urbana-Champaign campus depends upon the impressive and inexpensive saliva-based testing for its 40,000 on-campus students, and the article also notes how the most intuitive of plans can be toppled by the idiocy of just a few.
Kenneth Chang, the article’s author – and alumnus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) – identifies how the university’s coronavirus testing system was developed by two university physicists with many precautions in mind. Their initial model took into account the movements of 46,000 students, faculty, staff, and roughly 7,000 of UIUCs students partying three times a week. Precautions such as wearing masks, socially distancing, testing twice a week and scanning into buildings were mandated. All of these protocols made it so that the university was considered to be at minimal risk for viral spread if they were followed, but the model was predictably thrown out the window due to the irresponsibility of just a few students. What the model did not take into account was that a small subset of students were willfully non-compliant with university policy, and instead attended parties or snuck into communal facilities after testing positive for the virus. This caused the virus to spread like wildfire on the UIUC campus, leading to a lockdown dictating that students stay in their living space unless they were attending class.
The New York Times college and university coronavirus tracker outlines confirmed positive cases from around the nation, listing UIUC as the fourth largest coronavirus hotspot in the nation with 1,760 confirmed cases. Our campus in Springfield is comparatively non-existent at 15 confirmed cases but it does mean that there has been an influx of cases since the initial reporting of 10 cases at the beginning of September. The University of Illinois at Chicago has 67 confirmed positive cases, which means that, in its entirety, the University of Illinois system has had 1842 cases of coronavirus thus far – in just the first three weeks of classes. It has become apparent, even before the predicted influx of coronavirus cases this fall and winter, that not all students will follow the guidelines – regardless of the precautions in place.
All of this is evidence supporting my previous claim that, regardless of the university’s best intentions, the success of the system relies solely on the students. Thus far, the plan has not been working. The potential for another outbreak is extreme, and it is in the best interest of our administrators at UIS to weigh the mediocre benefits of college life alongside its potential fatal costs. This virus is deadly. Since my editorial on Sept. 3, the United States coronavirus death count has reached 200,000 and it is projected to reach over 400,000 by the end of December. In the three weeks since the publishing of this article and the last, there has been loss of life equivalent to that of five 9/11 terrorist attacks. With our sitting president preaching for millions to die in order to create herd immunity, it has become essential that we prevent the spread of this virus as much as possible to save lives. So please, stay safe and stay home!