UW-EC students’ return to campus ill-advised

One week into the semester at UW-Eau Claire, 91 students had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and nearly 200 had been quarantined. Who is surprised by these developments? Nobody. The rapid spread of the illness at the advent of the school year was maddeningly predictable.

Responsibility for Eau Claire’s growing public health crisis must fall with all due heft on the shoulders of UW-EC and UW System administrators. Yet I keep hearing irate voices — on social media, on the radio, on television — blaming students for spreading the virus.

Come on. It’s not the students’ fault. Eighteen-year-olds are “adults” in name only. The students’ behavior is largely developmental. Administration’s decision to open campus despite climbing COVID-19 infection rates was, by contrast, immoral.

University administration knew that opening meant there would be COVID-19 outbreaks on campus. UW-EC’s chancellor said as much in online forums with the university community. Deciding, then, that in-person college could be made “safe” was hubristic. Did administrators honestly think they could stop the spread with thermometers, masks, hand washing and the cooperation of legions of teenagers? Did these leaders, who work professionally with college students, truly believe that making them “pledge” to follow CDC guidelines would work?

Certainly, the financial cataclysm facing UW-EC due to the global pandemic seemed monstrous. Still, weighing human life against a balance sheet is always wrong. Now, with campus open and rates of infection rising in Eau Claire, people who might not have gotten sick and died will sicken and die. It’s a heavy truth to carry.

The students did not invite themselves back to the dorms and back to town. Let us not shunt blame onto our young people. The adults did it this time, and they should have known better.

Allyson Loomis

Eau Claire