Parties ramp up COVID-19 concerns

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer

To avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19, sophomore mass communications major Julia Pasette chose to cancel her housing contract for the spring semester. 

While Pasette isn’t directly aware of any partying, she said she remembers seeing girls in “fancy outfits” walking down Main Street on the weekends while she drove around campus in the fall. 

“They clearly went somewhere, but where — who knows?” Pasette said.

Twenty-four VCU students and 10 employees were reported to have COVID-19 within the first week of the spring semester, according to the VCU dashboard. Classes began Jan. 25. VCU has 40 active student cases as of Tuesday and none among employees.

Pasette’s weekends before COVID-19 consisted of dodgeball practices and Shabbat dinners with Jewish Life at VCU. Now, she cooks, hangs out with her cats and plays Dungeons & Dragons. Pasette said she resents the people who are choosing to hang out with large groups of people.

“I hate them,” Pasette said. “They’re the people that prevent me from being able to go to religious services, they’re the people that prevent me from having classes in person, and they’re the people that prevent me from having a college experience, which I am actively mourning.”

The University of Richmond reported 54 positive COVID-19 cases in its first week of spring classes, which began Jan. 18 with in-person instruction. The administration cited this increase in cases of partying. The university announced on Jan. 24 that students living off campus would take classes remotely for a two-week period, beginning on Jan. 25.

“It’s an interesting thought experiment to have in class, but it’s terrifying to have in real life,” said Sophomore pre-nursing major Michelle Ugarte-Nunez.

“It’s disappointing that we must remind some of you that unwavering adherence to our health and safety protocols is the only option,” said University of Richmond Vice President for Student Development Steve Bisese in a statement.

Bisese said the university’s administration was aware of at least two parties that took place within the first week of classes. These gatherings have the most potential to shut down campus operations due to the lack of social distancing and masks, Bisese said. 

The University of Richmond reported 103 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday. There have been a total of 208 cases, with 192 being from students and 16 from employees. The university has administered 5,661 COVID-19 tests this semester and currently has a 3.6% positivity rate.

Parties are considered any social gatherings on or off campus that consist of more than 10 people, according to VCU Director of Communications and Marketing Matthew Lovisa. He said many students have been following preventive measures such as washing their hands, wearing masks and social distancing. 

There have been a total of 270 cases this year with 204 student cases and 66 employee cases, according to university data. VCU has administered a total of 5,758 COVID-19 tests with a 0.9% positivity rate. This includes symptomatic, surveillance, entry and at-will tests.

Sophomore pre-nursing major Michelle Ugarte-Nunez said she feels as though students are being responsible in VCU public spaces, partly because of new restrictions and employee enforcement. 

Ugarte-Nunez has seen social media posts of groups larger than 10 people gathering with no masks.

The pre-nursing major said the choices of those students remind her that people often choose themselves over the “greater good.”

“It’s an interesting thought experiment to have in class, but it’s terrifying to have in real life,” Ugarte-Nunez said.

Lovisa said VCU requires all students to follow the same safety measures that were in place during the fall semester.  

We are grateful for their efforts to support the collective health of our community both at VCU and locally,” Lovisa said.

Anyone who gathers in groups of more than 10 people will face student conduct charges, which include interim suspension. If a student is suspended, they are immediately removed from the university and can face exclusion from university properties and activities and, in some cases, administrative withdrawal from classes. 

VCU police officers will be encouraging students to wear masks and social distance. Any reports of VCU students or faculty members violating these regulations will be sent to the Division of Student Affairs and Human Resources.

“Those steps allowed us to have a successful fall semester, and we are looking forward to a safe and successful spring semester,” Lovisa said. 

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