Behind the COVID-19 outbreak

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Photo by Colin Lancaster

COVID-19 cases at the University of Dallas have approximately tripled in the past two weeks, with 31 active student cases as of Monday, Nov. 9. The University News spoke with students who participated in events that led up to the outbreak, and their voices form a narrative of parties, regret and encouragement to finish the rest of the semester. 

A junior politics major, who attended the Oct. 17 off-campus party which is suspected to have spread the virus, said that she regretted her decision. 

“It was not worth it, it was very stupid and I knew that at the time,” she said. “Basically, it came from a spot of [feeling] like I was tired of being responsible. I was kind of in a mood, like, this is stupid but I don’t care right now.”

The party may have contributed to the outbreak, which then appears to have further spread during on and off-campus events during the weekend after charity week. 

The party occurred on Saturday, Oct. 17, until Sunday at around 3 a.m., at an alumni’s house about 10 minutes west of campus. According to students who attended, there were about 50 people there. Many people were coming in and out, so it was difficult to get a sense of exactly how many people attended. 

Many of the first cases in the recent campus outbreak, which necessitated a 4-day campus shutdown from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, appeared in Madonna Hall. But students who attended the party said that not many of the freshmen attended. 

According to the junior politics major, a group of freshmen had already been turned away from the alumni’s house when she left campus to go to the party. When the freshmen returned to campus, they went to the woods for their own party there.

One freshman who lives in Madonna and tested positive for the virus said that he did not attend the party at the alumni’s house because “a lot of freshmen wanted to go but the owners of the house wouldn’t let them come.”

He said that he does not know where he contracted the virus, but he believes he did not catch it from a party given the time frame of when he developed symptoms. 

This freshman, along with two other freshman boys who also live in Madonna and tested positive, decided to rent an Airbnb in which to isolate themselves for the duration of the virus. This was not approved by the school, and the boys rejected rumors of hosting parties at the rental house. The freshman said that the group decided to isolate off-campus “due to how poor isolation was on campus.”

The freshman was not optimistic about the shutdown discouraging parties for the rest of the semester. 

“I’d assume this isn’t going to change anything. In reality, the majority of people here don’t really care if they get COVID. I feel like they know they are young and are almost guaranteed to recover from it,” he said. “I would say that if there were parties being thrown prior to the outbreak there were definitely going to be parties thrown after it too.”

One junior with an undecided major said of the Oct. 17 party that “everyone that I would have seen at a regular party without COVID, I probably saw at some point there.” She said that the younger siblings of upperclassmen attended the party. 

“It’s hard to be the few responsible people,” she said, describing a sense of inconsistency in student’s attitudes to the coronavirus, combined with a prevailing sense that the occasional party is “worth it.”

“I think that after that one big party, a lot of people will try to hang out in smaller groups, but then there will still be those groups of people who don’t care and keep going to outsider bars,” said the junior. 

Junior Tommy Thompson agreed that people’s choice to go to off-campus bars facilitated the outbreak. Thompson did not attend the Oct. 17 party, but contracted the virus after a friend who was in his male auction act tested positive for the virus.

“I think that it was personal people’s decisions to go to Red River off-campus and then associating with friends at other events,” said Thompson.

Although several rugby players tested positive, Thomson said that he did not think that rugby practices spread the outbreak.

“I don’t think rugby itself spread anything,” said Thomson. “They’ve been very careful with the practices. All the school mandates have been followed really well, with masks. The coaches are very queued into that and making sure things are running well, and smoothly, and safely.”

After leaving Rome last spring due to concerns of the virus, Thompson said that he had previously only thought of the virus in distant and abstract terms.

“To actually come down with it was something I never really expected,” said Thomson. “It just reminded me of the reality of the pandemic, how real and pertinent it is.”

The junior politics major said that she declined the next invitation to a party after the Oct. 17 event.

“I can’t [party] again this semester. I guess I’ll give myself that one time, but it wasn’t worth it, and I shouldn’t have done it,” she said.

Stansbury, the contact tracer, said that the university’s containment measures, such as a fixed seating chart in each class, have been effective when exercised.

“The seating charts have been a very helpful contacting tracing tool. While we cannot reveal the name or identifying information of someone who tested positive, we have used the seating charts to conduct contact tracing and determine if students should be considered contacts,” said Stansbury.

The university mandates that students who were in contact with someone who tested positive be put under quarantine. There were 50 students quarantining on campus as of Monday Nov. 9, according to dean of students Julia Carrano. She encouraged students to not risk contracting the virus.

“While most of the students that you are hanging out with are probably healthy and young, some students have underlying conditions that may exacerbate the effects of the virus. In addition, students infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to older family members, faculty and staff, and other members of the community who are at higher risk,” Carrano said in a Nov. 9 email. 

“On a positive note, we’ve found that masking and distancing really do work,” Carrano said. “We only have 2 and a half weeks left, so I’m really hopeful that by pulling together, we can beat the odds and finish out the semester on campus.”

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