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Off Campus Gatherings Spark COVID-19 Outbreak on Campus

By Andrew Scarpaci & Dylan Valic

Sports Editor, Editor-In-Chief

Update – On Wednesday, Oct. 14 an additional 20 cases were reported on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, bringing the total number of reported cases since Oct. 10 to 33.

Editor’s Note – The Pioneer chose to keep quotes given to us by athletes anonymous out of respect for their privacy.

At least 14 students have tested positive for COVID-19 due to off campus gatherings attended by several members of various athletic teams, according to an email from Chief of Student Affairs and Alumni Engagement Michael Berthel on Sunday, Oct. 11. 

The affected students and individuals who they were in close contact with are required to quarantine for two weeks. Anyone who is in a class with a student who tested positive has been notified, according to the email. The email also states that the university will be disinfecting all impacted areas, but does not specify what areas on campus have been affected.

The university shared the email with students and staff when they became aware that off campus gatherings had occurred, according to Berthel.

“The University immediately coordinated its response with the Department of Health. We are working in close cooperation with the Department of Health on contact tracing in accordance with their Contact Tracing Program, and notifying all students and faculty who are in classes with these individuals,” Berthel said. “Anyone who had been in contact with these students would have been notified by this point.”

The incident comes soon after the NEC announced winter athletics we’re supposed to start on time on Nov. 25.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, 11 positive cases were reported on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, bringing the total number of reported cases for the two week from Sept. 27 to Oct. 10 to 19. On Sunday, Oct. 11 a new two week period that will last until Friday, Oct. 23 began, with a total of 13 positive cases being reported thus far. It is unclear how many cases are directly related to the gatherings.

All athletics have been paused for one week, and several athletic teams are currently quarantining as precautionary measures, according to Berthel.

One student athlete of a team not involved in this incident was upset because their practices have been cancelled for at least a week. 

“Everyone has been working super hard to be able to practice again, and because of a party it’s all on hold again,” they said. “None of us even heard of a party or anything and then next thing you know it’s shut down.”

The university currently has 85 students in quarantine, and 39 out of the available 50 quarantine rooms are currently in use, according to the New York State COVID-19 Report Card website.

Some athletes are afraid to speak out about the situation, fearing possible negative consequences.

“Athletes are being quiet about this incident in fear of negative repercussions from the athletic department,” one athlete said. “Although their information could be the difference between life and death to students with underlying health conditions.”

Disciplinary action against the students who attended the gatherings is being considered, according to Berthel. No details about what consequences may occur are known at the moment.

Some students, such as senior psychology major Nicole Ludwig, feel that the university needs to do a better job with enforcing social distancing guidelines on campus.

“The school needs to do more than send text messages and emails to enforce social distancing guidelines,” Ludwig said. “I’ve seen so many students walking around with their masks either below their noses or completely off without any consequences, and have even seen giant groups of friends eating together.”

In his email to the community, Berthel urged the student body to follow the university’s social distancing guidelines. 

“I understand that this pandemic has required sacrifice and you yearn for the social and emotional connection that has become synonymous with your LIU experience. We want that for you too,” the email stated. “However, the stakes are too high and we cannot take chances. Remain vigilant, renew your commitment to keeping yourself and our community safe, and act in a manner that demonstrates a genuine concern for your peers, your faculty, and your loved ones.”

Berthel would like to see the university have no new cases, which is something that can only be possible if students follow the universities COVID-19 guidelines.

“LIU will continue to respond immediately to positive cases when or if they occur. The positive test rate on campus is below county and state levels, but the university goal is to have zero cases,” he said. “All members of the LIU community are reminded to adhere very closely to LIU’s health guidelines: wear a face covering at all times when in public spaces on campus; practice physical distancing, do not gather in large groups; complete the daily health check-in; wash your hands regularly; stay home when you’re sick and seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Senior psychology major Sarah Ren, feels that while the university has done a good job regarding their COVID-19 protocols, the university’s dashboard does not provide enough information to keep the campus community informed. 

Ren would like to see the dashboard include the total number of cases the campus has experienced since the beginning of the semester. She feels that only showing positive cases from a two week period makes the situation appear less serious then it might otherwise be if the total number of cases were shown, and that students would be less likely to break social distancing guidelines if they had all of the information. 

Senior broadcasting major, Matthew Valentino thinks that the behavior displayed by some students is unfair to commuting students who have to put their families at risk.

“Now the students who commute and have to come on campus, but also be around their parents, or possibly grandparents, are putting themselves at risk, and everyone else around them at risk as well,” he said. “All because these kids want to have their college experience.”

Ludwig understands that the students who attended the parties most likely wanted to have a normal college experience, but thinks that what they did was reckless and dangerous.

“I think it’s very selfish to be trying to go to a party right now. I know so many people feel robbed of their college experience, and I can empathize with that, but your college experience isn’t going to mean as much to you if you find out someone you love has died from COVID,” she said. “And the longer we refuse to follow guidelines, the longer it’ll take for things to return to normal. To not follow the rules is to openly admit that you do not care about the safety of yourself or other people, and I don’t have any respect for that.”

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