EdBoard: COVID-19, Carnival, and student-blaming

Better university policy during breaks is necessary to prevent COVID-19 unsafe behaviors. (credit: Stacey Cho/Art Editor ) Better university policy during breaks is necessary to prevent COVID-19 unsafe behaviors. (credit: Stacey Cho/Art Editor )
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It's nearly guaranteed that with Spring Carnival comes an increase in COVID-19 cases. This is for a variety of reasons, such as perhaps the false sense of immunity that comes with the progress of opening up vaccine appointments to the general public. But a glaring and not adequately addressed reason is the extended break from classes allotted for the Spring Carnival.

With four days of school off (weekend included), it is only natural that students will gravitate toward more social activities such as going on trips and hanging out with friends, similar to the issue with Thanksgiving break. And while it is important to preserve breaks for students in such a challenging and stressful university, it is important to acknowledge the risks of such an event. Thanksgiving is to the general public what Carnival is to Carnegie Mellon students, and hence the possibility for close-distance, maskless interactions is high in both cases. Unfortunately, while the university did its best to address the issues with a Thanksgiving break by having students shelter in place post-Thanksgiving, they are not doing the same for Carnival.

Worse yet, while the blame resides partially on the university, the university has focused its messaging and efforts on associating the blame with students. While individual interactions do significantly affect the rate of COVID-19 cases, simply asking individuals to be more cautious when the Carnival break allows for so much social interaction is in vain. It requires more action from the administration to make changes at a university level.

In addition, the university has appointed police officers to patrol the area around campus to "enhance the safety and well-being of our students who live in or visit these neighborhoods, while also responding to any disruptive or illegal situations that present a safety risk to the community," as stated in the April 14 message titled "'A Tartan's Responsibility' During Spring Carnival" by Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Community Life John Hannon. We believe that such actions are not necessarily "a visible reminder about the importance of being thoughtful and considerate neighbors and ambassadors of CMU" as stated in the message and can instead be seen as hostile and punitive instead of encouraging social distancing behavior.

More preventative actions can be taken, and future breaks and events can be better designed to encourage more COVID-19 guideline-compliant behavior. For example, the administration could be messaging students about COVID-19-safe alternatives to infection-prone behavior on breaks, creating more socially distant in-person events that students might prefer over going on their own trips, and having students quarantine for two weeks after Carnival, just to name a few possibilities.

While individuals are responsible for their own actions, in order for the Carnegie Mellon community as a whole to stay safe, the university is responsible for creating policy and safe alternatives, not students. In the future, we can continue to have breaks while implementing a more concrete university policy to ensure safety.