Ah, The Boot. Thumping music. Sweaty, drunk, dancing college students. The perfect place to throw up in the bathroom, order another round of shots, and later make out with a stranger. What’s not to love?
Well, as we know all too well, 111,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, as of June 4th. The environments that Tulane students are used to spending their weekend, and let’s be honest, a good chunk of their weeknights in, are incredibly conducive to the spread of the virus.
Tulane has not been forthcoming about their exact plans to keep students and faculty safe from the virus. Other universities such a Boston University, have shared that they expect to have an ample supply of COVID tests for the fall semester. On May 13th, the Boston University’s president, Robert Brown, told the podcast, Freakonomics, “we will have literally thousands of tests to administer per day, that will be easily administered with no more than a 24-hour turnaround.”
Boston University has around 20,000 more students than Tulane, so it’s reasonable to expect they have more testing than Tulane does. However, it’s impossible to not have lots of questions. What is Tulane’s testing capacity? What is Tulane’s plan for contract tracing? How frequently does Tulane expect to test its students and faculty?
Tulane has stated that it plans to test students when they arrive for the semester and frequently throughout the semester. It has not stated what its’ definition of frequently is. In an email offering single room hotel living for the 2020-2021 school year, the university also claimed, “(it) maintains the belief that the safest place for our students is on campus”. Through the recommendations of Tulane’s Re-opening committee, it’s also stated its intentions to de-densify classrooms and dorms.
If Tulane does not plan to test students during the weekend or at a near-daily rate, how can the university plan to stop the virus from spreading in environments like the Boot, a fraternity basement, or an off-campus house party? Think of the amount of close-contact interactions one person has from one night out at a frat party. It increases dramatically if they also hit a bar on maple street. And it multiplies again if the person heads downtown to the French Quarter.
In the absence of conducting nearly 14,000 daily tests, the university will need students to radically alter their behavior. As a country, we’ve done that in the past 4 months. Mobility data from Apple indicates people are driving and walking less. And many people are wearing masks when they leave their houses. What would a similar shift in behavior look like from Tulane students when they are back on campus. Do we expect students to stop going out? Do we expect students to all wear masks if and when they do go out? Do we expect students to maintain distance while they are out at bars? Moreover, do we expect fraternities, the Boot, or local bars to strictly enforce CDC guidelines? I wouldn’t expect it.
After all, these are organizations known to provide fertile grounds for sexual assault. Not exactly who I would want to count on when policies that may marginally reduce fun — but benefit public safety — need to be followed.
I’m also not convinced students will make the necessary sacrifices on their own. College students are not in the most at-risk population group for the virus. There will need to be strong incentives against engaging in risky behavior.
So, I ask what is Tulane’s plan to deal with the threat the normal campus social dynamics of life poses to public health?
And maybe more importantly, as students, what is our plan? And what is our responsibility to the university and each other?