As the colder weather sets in, so does "pandemic fatigue”, and COVID-19 cases have started to climb. The Oregonian warned last weekend that if people in the state don’t change their behavior, there is potential for a massive outbreak.
Within weeks of college campus’ reopenings, COVID-19 cases spiked across the country. These numbers were higher on campuses that had some in-person instruction, as a result of large off-campus parties. While the University of Portland is conducting online classes for the fall semester, without careful social distancing, there is still the possibility for an outbreak. Students found in violation of the University’s social distancing guidelines will be subject to the student conduct process.
Those between the ages of 20 to 30 currently have the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases in Multnomah County, with 22% of the total confirmed cases. This age group, which a majority of UP students fall into, is more likely to be actively going out and relaxing in social distancing efforts, making their chances of contracting COVID-19 higher than other age groups.
UP students also just returned from fall break, increasing the risk of COVID-19 for students in the area, if some traveled home.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs, Fr. John Donato, there are 1,205 students living off campus in the 97203 zip code, which includes University Park and St. Johns.
There is still a lack of information about the number of students, if any, who have tested positive for COVID-19 at UP. The school is working on a website with this information, which will be ready in January, University President Fr. Mark Poorman said in an email on Oct 2.
Eight parties have been reported on Campus Safety’s Daily Crime and Fire Log since the beginning of the semester in late August. This is in contrast to Sept. 2019, when there were 17 calls to Campus Safety reporting parties, according to Meghan McGee, the University’s dispatch supervisor.
According to Michael Kranyak, a Campus Safety Sergeant, the parties this semester were all called in by non-UP neighbors. There were no more than 10 to 12 students, but they were not wearing masks nor six feet apart, according to Kranyak.
According to Director of Campus Safety Sara Westbrook, this year’s party scene is calm compared to last year. Westbrook, however, wants students living off-campus to continue to social distance, and remember that while many students are low-risk, they could spread it to older or higher-risk people in the area.
“It seems to happen so fast, so if one person gets it, they don’t know, but they could give it to so many others if they are not cautious,” Westbrook said. “Of course I worry about it, but I think I’m really believing in the community of students because they are really behaving well.”
Students who gather in groups of more than 10 and do not wear masks are subject to the conduct process, according to Associate Director of Community Standards Tyler Hale. Hale wants to judge each situation case by case, to benefit students, but also keep the community as safe as possible.
“I want you [students] to feel confident that we’re using reason in addressing those things,” Hale said. “If you have 11 people over at your house outside, and the rule is 10, of course we are going to address that more appropriately than if you had 40 people in a thumping basement with a bowl of boozy punch.”
Hale emphasized that being in college, UP students need social interaction, and they can still spend time with friends. But they just have to be smart about it, and understand that the whole world is struggling through this right now.
UP students are on a better track than other schools like the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder. CU Boulder had to move classes online weeks into the semester, and put some students on quasi-house arrest because of a massive outbreak. This does not mean, however, that UP students are in the clear, as Westbrook and Hale expressed.
On the Campus Safety side, things have been more calm than years past, but senior Meg Bender-Stephanski has noticed consistent gatherings in the University Park neighborhood.
“Sometimes on evenings during the weekends we will go on walks, and just this past Saturday night we noticed at least 5 separate houses with audible music and voices,” Bender-Stephanski said. “Whether those people all live together or not, who knows, it just sends the wrong message to our community that UP students don't care about the pandemic or affecting the health of those around us.”
The threat of the pandemic will linger until there is a mass distributed vaccine. It could take just one party with one case to be a super-spreader event, similar to the White-House nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barret. UP students need to continue to be diligent in their social activities, wear masks, wash their hands and avoid indoor activities with people they do not live with.
Fiona O'Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.