Thousands of Bearcats are descending on one small town that just recorded its single-day highest number of COVID-19 positive cases. What could go wrong? The answer is a lot.
Northwest and its leadership, particularly the Northwest Leadership Team, have been put in a difficult situation of trying to continue in-person classes while following proper guidelines. However, not testing or requiring students to submit a negative coronavirus test before returning to campus is practically begging for an outbreak.
Northwest, like all other Missouri colleges, has been left on an island to make its own decisions. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson seems unwilling or unable to take charge and enforce statewide COVID-19 regulations — Missouri is one of 16 states without a mask mandate — this leaves a hodgepodge of inconsistent policies across higher education in Missouri.
UMKC is requiring all on-campus residents to submit a negative COVID-19 test before they are allowed to move into their dorms. Missouri State is requiring testing for athletes, some athletic staff, residential hall staff and anyone that has recently traveled internationally.
Northwest has fallen in line with MIAA counterparts Missouri Western and Central Missouri in not requiring any form of testing before in-person classes begin. It’s important to note that these universities are a part of the same conference that decided it was unsafe to proceed with fall sports. The leaders of the MIAA met and determined that having athletes from different areas come in close contact with each other is not safe, especially when it is unknown whether or not they have been testing for coronavirus.
Northwest didn't require testing due to the availability of tests in Nodaway County and testing not currently being a requirement of the CDC and local health officials, said Matt Baker vice president of Student Affairs. However as the whole world has seen from the catastrophe that was the University of North Carolina, the minimum requirements aren't enough. UNC did not test students or faculty before returning to campus and was hit with an immediate outbreak of coronavirus after freshmen moved in, forcing them to move to online classes.
Contrary to popular belief — also known as President Donald Trump’s belief — not testing doesn’t actually result in fewer cases. It results in more exposure to people who are unaware they are infected only multiplying the likelihood of a health crisis. As of Aug. 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are roughly over 1,600 cases per 100,000 U.S. residents, approximately 1.6%. Using Northwest’s enrollment statistics from 2019 and CDC data, it is likely that a little over 100 students have coronavirus and many may not know it.
The feeling on campus is not if, but when, will Northwest have a surge of cases on campus forcing the school to shutter its in-person classes and move strictly to online. No mandate on testing only speeds up the timetable for that to happen.
Nobody wants to be the bad guy. Unfairly, in some situations, there has been a stigma associated with testing positive even if the person was not being negligent and caught the virus accidentally. The more virus cases that pop up on campus, the more stringent the restrictions and the closer we are to going online only. Students will feel incentivized to hide symptoms so as not to get tested and “sound the alarm.”
Ignorance is not bliss and not testing or requiring testing for students is dangerous.
Yes, the mask policies, the blended classes and “Bearcat Thunder” — cool name — are the correct measures to help mitigate the spread, but not testing or requiring students to submit negative tests is a gaping hole in the plan to make sure an outbreak is prevented on Northwest’s campus. Eventually, all of us will pay for that oversight.