The Personal Responsibility of Students to Stay Safe During a Pandemic

Monday, October 26, 2020

The personal responsibility of students to stay safe during a pandemic
By Erica Riray

In Congresswoman Karen Bass’s speech for LMU’s Constitution Day, she reminded us that college students are not immune to COVID-19. Yet as students return to Los Angeles, many appear to be unfazed by the risks of the current pandemic when throwing parties and large gatherings. 

At the time this article was written, LA Public Health reported 279,909 COVID-19 cases in LA County, a number that is increasing by about 1,250 a day. Fatality rates have slowed, but 6,741 people have died from COVID-19 in LA County to date.

Some LMU students who weren’t able to secure on-campus housing still find themselves living close to campus, occupying buildings in Playa Vista and Westchester. In attempts to replicate what is left of the college experience away from the Bluff, groups of friends are quarantining together, attending Zoom lectures in the same rooms and leaning on each other for emotional support that they may not receive back home. 

But COVID outbreaks in colleges across the country tell us that the pandemic poses a threat to the fun. Despite strict precautions that mirror those released by LMU in early August, the University of Southern California (USC) experienced a spike in cases, according to USC Chief Student Health Officer Sarah Van Orman. Students have been found throwing parties in off-campus apartments, in one instance causing a COVID-19 outbreak that put over a hundred people in quarantine. 

Similarly, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) reported an outbreak of COVID-19 cases directly related to large gatherings of students on and off campus near the end of September. This outbreak put approximately 328 on-campus residents in quarantine and CSULB has since asked off-campus community members to self-isolate. 

USC and CSULB’s neighborhoods are home to Black and Brown communities who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to contract COVID-19 due to social inequities including access to healthcare, occupation and housing. In addition to facing gentrification and increasing rent, a deadly virus is now brewing in their backyards. 

LMU students are capable of quickly catching and spreading COVID-19 to the most vulnerable members of the community in the same way. Black and Brown residents have occupied the neighborhoods surrounding LMU for years. In Westchester, the minority groups listed in the CDC’s report make up 48% of the population. About four miles away in Inglewood, they make up about 70%

In an October 2020 report, the CDC has concluded that young adults significantly contribute to community transmission of COVID-19. The CDC’s new data confirms that people ages 20-29 make up the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases nationwide, surpassing adults aged 60 and older.

To accommodate public health guidelines, the university has reduced housing occupancy to one student per unit with Resident Directors enforcing housing rules.

Sophomore Cobe Alvarez is currently living alone in an on-campus apartment. His experience has been comfortable and safe since Resident Directors are actively limiting entrance into buildings. 

Alvarez expressed that seeing other residents’ social media posts of small kickbacks and gatherings worry him due to how the virus could be spread through these activities.

“I would say I'm more concerned about students doing stuff off campus, [or] students living on campus and going off campus, than I am about [living] on campus specifically,” said Alvarez. 

LMU has also promoted safety on and off campus during the pandemic. Over the Labor Day weekend, LMU released a “Protect the Pride” video on social media. Students from Sorority and Fraternity Life (SFL) encouraged students to follow social distancing guidelines. LMU has also been updating their  “LMU Together” page and adopting the motto “EIBC,” short for Excellent Infectious Behavior Control.

“[EIBC] encourages students to monitor their behavior, stand six feet apart, wear their masks [and] not gather in large groups of three or more,” explained Amiya Powell-Hodge, interim Assistant Director of Off-Campus Student Life.

Playa Del Oro (PDO), an apartment building minutes from campus, is primarily occupied by LMU students every year given its proximity to campus, and this semester is no different. Sophomore PDO resident Meghan Quadracci reported that the building has been promoting distancing and limiting entrance to shared spaces like the pool. But unlike the residents living on campus, there are no Resident Directors or Public Safety officers to enforce distancing and the number of guests in the apartments. 

In an email sent out to LMU’s Service Organization Community (SOC) in September, Center for Service and Action (CSA) Assistant Director for Student Engagement Chelsea Brown reprimanded large gatherings that were allegedly reported and pleaded with students to stop.

[W]e are only on day 2 of the semester and there have already been reports of students gathering in large groups at houses outside the back gates and in Playa Del Oro,” Brown wrote. “Here’s the thing: please don’t.” 

It is unclear if the university has taken any action regarding these specific reports or exactly whom these incidents of gatherings were reported to. 

Off-campus residents who hold gatherings may also face consequences from the local government. The LA County Health Officer Order’s Impact on Daily Life explicitly states that “individual and family gatherings or parties of any size aren’t allowed.” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has also threatened to shut off utilities for those who violate public health orders such as these. 

Powell-Hodge explained that LMU has taken a more restorative approach over a punitive one to violations of COVID-19 preventative procedures.

“We are addressing it with care and compassion as we would anything else,” said Powell-Hodge.

If a neighboring member of the community files a complaint, the university writes a report and Off Campus Student Life will follow up with students as needed. There have been no complaints publicly reported by LMU.

University life has changed drastically with the pandemic. LMU has made resources available to students but is not directly policing them. Students are the only ones responsible for their individual decisions. 

Powell-Hodge wants to remind students to “consider your values and who you value. This is a time for us to be creative about the way we conceptualize community and we have to do that with every member of our community in mind. That is what’s going to help us return to our campus life.”

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