CNN reports there might be as many as 1200 coronavirus cases at the University of Alabama, and the Associated Press adds Arizona State University officials believe more than 450 cases exist on that campus.
In another part of the country, the San Diego Union Tribune notes roughly 200 students from San Diego State University were seen out without masks.
After reading these reports, many Americans are quick to draw a conclusion: My community is doomed. Whether they blame the students for the explosion in coronavirus cases is irrelevant; fear leads them to quickly conclude the same crisis will unfold in their city. (Yes, I recognize there also are millions of people who read the reports and shake their head, convinced there’s no crisis. I’ll refrain from criticizing them in this post.)
Yes, the media need to report these data, regardless of whether the coronavirus cases are happening on a college campus or in nearby communities.
However, while these stories generate headlines, they miss an important point: The circumstances in, say, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have no bearing on the health conditions in, say, Lawrence, Kansas.
In other words, a coronavirus outbreak at one college doesn’t mean a similar outbreak will occur at another college, hundreds or thousands of miles away. Likewise, people who live in those communities ought not be panicking.
Could a similar outbreak happen? Of course, it could. I’m not suggesting we be ignorant of the potential harm and do something idiotic, such as stare at solar eclipses while not wearing protective glasses. We must remain hyper-cautious in this lingering pandemic. However, the worst coronavirus cases thus far (and thus far are two incredibly important words to remember) to hit college campuses have tended to happen in states where the overall coronavirus numbers have been high.
Correlation? Causation? Coincidence? You decide.
As more colleges begin their fall terms this week and in the coming weeks, there will be outbreaks on many of those campuses. It’s critical for everyone to remember responsible college leaders are in constant communication with county and state health officials; and if those officials recommend closing a campus (similar to what we experienced in March), then the campus will be shuttered. No ethical leader is going to risk an even more dangerous situation by stubbornly keeping the campus open.
And just because an outbreak is reported in one part of the country, the rest of America ought not demand the colleges near them send students home before a crisis strikes.
Remain vigilant in how you protect yourself and your loved ones from this vicious virus. But don’t spread irrational fear.