Dear Undergraduate Students:
I'm writing today to discuss recent student social gatherings that place our entire community at risk and also threaten to derail plans to return to Grounds next month.
This past weekend, large numbers of students gathered in Corner bars, rental houses and apartments, and a few fraternity houses as part of Midsummers. Despite rapidly rising cases of COVID-19 in many parts of the country, students were observed by peers and others in the community disregarding social distancing requirements and forgoing use of facial masks. I'm sure many of you have seen the photos and videos posted on social media chronicling this reckless behavior.
I've heard that a few students have defended this behavior by arguing that as young, healthy adults, you are not at risk of contracting any serious health conditions even if you test positive for COVID-19. To be clear, such an argument should be seen by each of us as repugnant to any idea of fundamental decency towards our fellow citizens. The idea that choosing to forgo wearing a facial mask is a mark of vigor, health or vitality is – to be blunt – selfish and ignorant. You should wear a mask to prevent droplets escaping your own mouth and nose, thus protecting those around you who may be more vulnerable for any number of reasons. Circulation of droplets possibly containing the virus is particularly risky in enclosed spaces, such as a bar or other social gathering space.
A diverse group of students has been working with University staff throughout the summer to develop strategies designed to help each of us better understand what is required to ensure health and safety when we return to Grounds. We are also working closely with Commonwealth public health officials and our own University medical experts in assessing what needs to be done to protect our community. You will be hearing more regarding the specific details in the days to come.
However, all of this will come to nothing if reckless behavior as was seen this past weekend continues. If such behavior continues, we will not make it long into the fall semester before a significant outbreak occurs and we then need to send students home. That's the self-interested motivation to do better.
Your more important motivation should be the care of others. When you disregard the guidance provided by the health department and our leadership to keep our community safe (e.g., social distancing and mask wearing), you place at risk your peers who may have health conditions such as compromised immune systems. You also place at risk those who work in our community, often individuals who are older and without significant resources, who clean the spaces you occupy, remove the trash you produce, and work the counters at convenience stores you frequent. Failing to follow basic rules about health and safety will also cause increased cases in our community and result in an overwhelming of our healthcare system.
I recognize most students are doing the right thing. You recognize we are in a public health crisis not seen in a century, and to overcome it requires sustained individual sacrifice. However, we cannot succeed if a critical mass of us decides to opt out of that shared commitment and acts with unrestrained hubris. I recognize the strong desire to be in the company of friends after many months away, but there are ways to reconnect without placing everyone else at risk. Please recommit to observing social distancing and wearing masks when in the company of others with whom you do not share a home. Failure to do so places the most vulnerable at significant risk and will likely lead to an end to on-Grounds education this fall.
We can do better.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students