COVID-19 cases spike causing halt to academics

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Photo by Emily Ashman

Despite a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the University of Dallas to suspend classes, university administrators are not considering requiring vaccination and still hope to avoid a hybrid class schedule this semester. 

On Aug. 31 Jonathan Sanford announced that the university will suspend in-person classes until Sept. 13 due to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases on the Irving campus. 

Two days before the announcement, two students had tested positive for coronavirus according to the university’s Covid Case Report. By Sept. 1, 38 students had tested positive. Cases are expected to continue to rise as the university clinic continues to conduct testing.

While the provost, the dean of students and the COVID committee offered guidance on the best course of action, Sanford and his executive committee were ultimately responsible for making the decision to pause classes and move online. 

“We have a responsibility to limit the effect of contagion. We’ve had more cases in the last few days than we have since we’ve had to deal with coronavirus,” Sanford said. “Although our young people are not particularly at risk, we have faculty members and staff who are more vulnerable. I have a responsibility to ensure a reasonably safe environment for classes to be conducted.”

“Part of the decision to do this is that there was a student who had serious complications and had to go to the ER,” said Clare Venegas, vice president of marketing and communications. The student is recovering, Sanford said.

With 16 students in isolation and 11 in quarantine on campus, UD’s isolation rooms are completely full. As cases continue to rise among on-campus students, some are isolating in a nearby hotel, as the university does not have the space to accommodate them. 

“The pause is to get the cases down to a reasonable number,” Sanford said. He explained that UD must obtain sufficient capacity for students to isolate. Some students have returned to their homes and some rooms have been rearranged, enabling UD to accommodate the unprecedented number of students in isolation.

“I don’t pretend that the goal is eradication of coronavirus. The intention has been containment within reasonable levels,” Sanford said.

“The outbreak [seems to be] coming from social engagement outside of class,” Dr. John Norris, associate provost, said. 

The university has sponsored one on-campus event which encouraged social engagement outside of class. The Office of Student Affairs held its traditional TGIT celebration on Aug. 26. 

When Anna Stevenson, senior English major, was tested, medical professionals asked her about her source of exposure. 

“They ask you your symptoms, ask about direct contact, then ask you if you went to TGIT, writing it down on your form,” Stevenson said. 

Though Sanford did mandate masks in class, not all professors have been following protocol. When particular professors were identified for their non-adherence to the mask mandate, their particular dean of students addressed those faculty members. 

“In those instances, I think that the professors thought that the principle of not being forced to wear a mask was more important than the example they were setting as someone who was obedient to the rules that were set for the common good,” Norris said. 

Administration is not considering implementing a vaccine mandate in light of this outbreak. 

“I acknowledge that the vaccine is good and beneficial. That’s different than saying that it must be forced upon someone who does not acknowledge its goodness,” Sanford said. “Respect for conscience is part of what’s entailed as part of a rich conception of the common good. I anticipate maintaining that position.” 

Undergraduate classes were suspended both Wednesday and Thursday to allow students and faculty flexibility as they transition to online classes. If professors choose to release asynchronous class assignments, they may do so. Graduate classes transitioned online immediately.

Classes will resume according to schedule on Friday and will remain online at least through Sept. 12. 

Sanford expressed his desire to avoid hybrid classes. 

“The idea that professors would have to teach class with some on the ground and some online is very challenging,” Sanford said. “I want the community to move forward together. If we can get the numbers down to a reasonable level, we can all get back to the in-person experience.”

Norris also hopes to return to in-person classes as soon as possible. “[Faculty] love the on-ground teaching experience even more than the students. It’s the best part of my day,” Norris said. 

While the administration does desire to return to in-person classes, they do not want to return too soon. 

“We want to get back to the in-person experience quickly and have it sustained as opposed to moving along and having this happen multiple times,” Sanford said.

Administration has defined this hiatus as a pause, rather than a lockdown. Students are still encouraged to socialize but in a conscious manner. The Office of Student Affairs is hosting various student events outdoors such as movie nights, pick-up games, and the Clubs’ Fair.

“We want students to be able to participate in activities, especially if it’s outdoors,” Venegas said. “Students can interact but we want them to do it in a way that will reduce the spread.” 

In an email to students Dr. Gregory Roper, interim dean of students, encouraged the UD community to avoid large gatherings and events which crowd a large number of people indoors.

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