Earlier today, Binghamton University Vice President Brian Rose sent out a B-Line News Addition to the BU community. COVID-19 cases are on the rise and we are nearing our 5 percent infection threshold that mandates BU to move fully online if surpassed. In the statement, Rose stated that there are 154 students in isolation on campus and 122 students in quarantine housing. Those in quarantine housing have been sent to one of two local hotels. Rose went on to say that he didn’t want “to throw blame around,” listed several reports of off-campus gatherings and concluded by asking students to “be a member of our campus community and not just a consumer of our services.”
There’s a lot to unpack here.
One year out of the pandemic, with a new, even more highly infectious strain of the virus and it’s clear that there are still a myriad of issues stemming from administrative oversight, or the lack thereof. Should students be following social distancing guidelines? Absolutely. Now is not the time to give up — everyone is burnt out beyond belief and just wants this to end, but partying is not going to solve that. However, when this announcement reads more like a teacher reprimanding a class after a bad substitute than a comprehensive look at our current situation, it’s worth examining all aspects of the issue.
The number of cases provided in Rose’s email are not exactly consistent with the SUNY COVID-19 Data Dashboard. At the time of publication, the site lists an estimated 184 positive cases, 177 students isolating on campus and 156 isolating off campus. BU leads the SUNY system in active cases. It’s worth asking just where Rose got these numbers from. The Broome County Dashboard, on the other hand, lists 832 active cases, with 46 hospitalized and 272 cases in Vestal alone. It’s safe to say this doesn’t match any of the previously stated data either.
A few students have anonymously come forward, complaining of unsanitary conditions and a lack of access to food in their isolated dorms. Some claim the rooms were left uncleaned and claim that several meals were not delivered, since they are unable to leave the isolation space. For those off campus, it appears that the University will be providing two meals a day with the hotel providing one, and there is no information with regards to the frequency of testing for these students. Several concerning statements have also been posted on Reddit claiming other serious issues regarding housing and living conditions, even going to far as to claim being forced out of on-campus living spaces to make room for quarantine housing, but they have yet to be corroborated.
All this comes not long after it was announced that the College-in-the-Woods Dining Center would be shutting down, leaving only two functioning dining halls for student use. With the Marketplace seen as an often expensive option, students on campus may find themselves with limited dining options, especially if they have dietary restrictions. Two dining halls, each serving two living communities, definitely have the potential to increase crowding and congestion as students attempt to get food — something that certainly won’t help in curbing the spread of the virus. There are no plans for how the College-in-the-Woods Dining Center will be used, though the obvious suggestion should be to use it mainly to make meals for those stuck in their dwellings.
If this plan to increase isolation/quarantine housing and to house students off campus in the local area was set in motion prior to the start of the semester, clear and public guidelines should’ve been provided to students so that they could have the full picture of what their housing experience would be like. Perhaps, some students would’ve opted to stay home. If there is, as of right now, only 41 percent of housing left in isolation as we sit not-so-far away from a shutdown, what on earth is going to happen when BU does reach its threshold? Where will “isolated” students stay if there’s nowhere for them to go?
It’s clear that the University administration isn’t exactly following-up on its statements about protecting students. The cleaning and dining services promised by Residential Life and BU Dining Services are falling short, which puts not only students, but the hardworking staff of the University, at risk for further harm. Student claims have also made it clear that maintenance staff came and cleaned as soon as they were made aware of an issue and expressed serious concern for students. This is clearly a problem with management of resources.
There’s still a potential for things to get worse, especially if the newer, more infectious variant of COVID-19 spreads throughout the student body. It seems that perhaps these measures were unrealistic and a poorly thought-out choice from the start.
Yet, even with all this information, there’s still a lot of questions left unanswered. Are students in isolation receiving regular testing? What should happen if they test positive at the end of their two weeks? How does all of this work for the students that have been pushed off campus? Off-Campus College Transport (OCCT) will only change its schedule should we hit the 5 percent threshold, but if that happens, that would only further limit the access to food and testing to those in quarantine housing, so how will many receive food?
In an attempt to understand the situation, it should be noted that students could be tested in different areas such as the New York state site in Hillside Community, through local pharmacies like CVS and through the surveillance testing provided by BU. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of clear information available as to how the data at these locations are reported in conjunction with each other, especially as BU’s statistics don’t include information provided from Department of Health reports. There are also many students who are designated “remote-only,” yet still live in the local area. The COVID-19 Data Dashboard doesn’t include all of these factors, so it may even be best to err on the side of caution and assume that we have more cases than currently reported. If that’s true, things are getting out of hand.
It could appear that a backlog in testing due to the start of the semester may have occurred, only exacerbating the problem, or that the new variant of the virus is already here. Not all samples taken from COVID-19 tests are sent out to be checked for the new variant, so there’s really no way to know. Rose, on the other had, blames extracurriculars, Greek life and Super Bowl parties for the increased spread. While students going out at the start of the semester played a significant part in the problem, it’s not the entire issue here. It doesn’t exactly help that the statistics provided by the University aren’t always clear either. There’s very little information as to how the data is collected, what factors are included, what the time frame for data to be published looks like, who’s verifying all of this and so on. Perhaps that’s by design, but if we’re being told the University is doing all it can, students deserve to know what those actions are.
Even with the plethora of things addressed here, these issues could be just the tip of the iceberg. These unsettling problems are indicative of something that goes much deeper than the past few weeks — unrealistic expectations, a poor managerial system and as always, a lack of transparency with students. Dealing with these issues is no easy task, but we’re currently dealing with a crisis worse than last semester, or arguably even last year. To be told that we must “be a member of our campus community and not just a consumer of our services,” is more than a bit much considering all of the issues surrounding keeping students safe. Not to mention, we are students paying a lot of money to attend this institution — we are consumers. Many of the aspects that make up the BU “community” have disappeared because of the pandemic, and while that is the unfortunate reality of the situation, the administration is in no position to be throwing stones. Students are angry, tired and divided on how to best proceed, and not to mention, the administration is supposed to be a part of that “community” as well. If we’re really all in this together, the administration should be taking care of these issues with students— not trying to keep us here as long as possible in order to avoid refunds.