In the two months that students were away from Grounds over winter break, the COVID-19 pandemic took a sharp new turn. Not only did the number of cases shoot up — both nationally and in the Blue Ridge Health District — but the very nature of the virus itself also changed with a more-contagious variant expected to become the dominant strain in the country by March. Despite this, a series of recent incidents suggests that students are not being any safer this semester — a period traditionally characterized by large social gatherings, sporting events, fraternity and sorority rush. Students have continued to display a lack of empathy towards those around them and a total disregard for all University-implemented policies intended to slow the spread of the virus.
We are nearly a year into the pandemic — students know what it takes to behave responsibly and protect those around them. At this point, those who continue to party and gather in large crowds are willfully ignorant, putting both the University and Charlottesville communities in danger. This past weekend, it was abundantly clear that many students blatantly disregarded COVID-19 guidelines, gathering in large groups for events like IFC rush and the Super Bowl. Scenes of maskless students drinking together on Mad Bowl or at Corner bars and pelting snowballs at each other on the Lawn have littered social media feeds, showing the incredible lack of concern these students display towards the virus. In addition, community members voiced their concerns on social media platforms with University students entering local communities without masks, jeopardizing the health of the predominantly Black population. Students who continue such recklessness during the current semester display a shameful disregard for the human lives very much at risk with their actions.
Indeed, college campuses often provide perhaps the best breeding ground for viruses like COVID-19. A single positive case on a residential hall has the potential to infect dozens, with residents not only living in close proximity to each other but also sharing restrooms, study lounges, washing machines and even breathing the same filtered air. Little over a week into the semester, the University identified 17 cases in Gibbons residence hall. Similar conditions apply to off-Grounds houses and apartments as well. If students are cautious, dorms may not necessarily have to foster massive COVID-19 outbreaks. However, when students disregard the policies put in place to protect them, there is a large chance that residence halls will see these large outbreaks. Simply put, the actions of a single individual can have a very real and tangible impact on the community as a whole. The consequences of rash student actions also extend well beyond Grounds. Both nationwide and in the Charlottesville community, Black and Brown people are much more susceptible to COVID-19 complications.
The University itself certainly has a responsibility to look out for the well-being of the Charlottesville community. Doctors, nurses and volunteers from the health system have conducted thousands of free drive-in tests for members of the community. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but there always remains more that the University can do. When the pandemic first began, for example, the University was incredibly strict on gatherings at Mad Bowl or the Lawn — even shutting down Mad Bowl for some time. As time progressed, the University eased up on some of these restrictions, which is why students were able to congregate in such a manner this past weekend. Now, as students have shown that they simply do not care about the policies the University has put in place, the University has rightfully recommitted to these strict but necessary precautions indefinitely. They must temporarily shut down Mad Bowl — which is known for its large gatherings of drunk students — and enforce the extended six-person gathering limit.
Neither the University administration nor the student body can be entirely effective acting as independent bodies — they must band together to combat the virus. Although the University must institute policies to ensure our safety and the safety of those around us, it is ultimately up to students to respect the clear directives and intentions of those policies — stop looking for loopholes. It is clear that the behavior of these ignorant and selfish students will have incredibly dangerous consequences for those in the University community and in Charlottesville. For those who continue to break COVID-19 policies — even if you refuse to acknowledge the implications of your behavior, hope that your own actions don’t catch up and leave you suspended or with major health concerns. Know that your actions could have already caused irreparable harm for surrounding communities. Begin abiding by the rules now and hope that the damage has not already been done.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at email@example.com.