Flames of the Torch: ‘Johnnies Care’ – So Let’s Prove It

When we began preparing this week’s newsletter on Sept. 5, gearing up for the third week of the semester, St. John’s reported 11 total cases of COVID-19 in the St. John’s community – nine of which were active cases. Now, only five days later, the total has risen to 25 confirmed cases. That is a jump of 14 cases over Labor Day weekend alone. 

Whether the individuals that have reported cases of COVID-19 to the University are students, faculty or staff is not entirely known, besides the five students reported to be isolating on campus, but the level of caution exercised needs to remain the same. 

As colleges and universities across the country (and even the state) are attempting to navigate this new normal, some are doing so unsuccessfully. SUNY Oneonta recently canceled in-person classes for the remainder of the semester after there were 389 positive cases reported on campus – nearly 6.5% of the student population. This comes shortly after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that colleges must go remote for two weeks if a college reports 100 COVID-19 cases, or an outbreak equal to 5% of the school’s population. 

So, what does this mean for St. John’s? If we must visit campus, whether it is for classes or other extracurriculars, we’ve signed the “Johnnies Care Act” by now. We’re supposed to wear our masks, keep gatherings to an absolute minimum and practice social distancing at all times. If we observe others not practicing social distancing, we are encouraged to report the instance. But are we all really doing that? And who does this responsibility really come down on?

Ultimately, whether you’re a first-year student or a professor who has worked at St. John’s for decades, we all have to do our part. Everyone longs for the college experience, but that has been altered. This week, our Opinion Editor Sara Rodia took a long look at campus before the pandemic and compared it to the state that it is in now. Students told her about getting involved virtually, about how they were enjoying the short lines at Starbucks – but some also questioned how long we will really be on campus and proposed extra precautions they think the University should be taking during this time. 

Now, resident students run the risk of being sent home without any reimbursement, should the University revert to remote learning before the end of the semester. What would happen to dining hall staff if the semester were to be cut short, unexpectedly? The freshmen who were just getting their college experience started, and the seniors that are trying to savor every last moment? Students who have high-risk family members that can’t return home just yet? 

At the same time,  does this responsibility fall on our shoulders? Why were we rushed off of campus so quickly in March, but encouraged to return this fall and put our lives at risk while paying a tuition that is even more expensive than the year prior? 

Syracuse University required all undergraduate and graduate students to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their return to campus. This week, the university is beginning its second round of mandatory testing for students. Why are St. John’s only tests seeing if we can answer five yes/no questions and show a green pass to a Public Safety officer? 

For those of us that are on campus (however we may feel about having to come back for in-person classes or jobs) we must also take on a certain amount of responsibility. Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, skipping out on parties and other gatherings – these are just some of them. 

So while this year looks much different than those that have come before it, we are tasked with these responsibilities to make it feel as normal as possible. While it may seem difficult, there are plenty of ways to make this new normal work for each of us – dining outdoors, getting involved with campus organizations virtually and more. Our college experience is in our hands, and it is on us to keep a tight grip.