Oklahoma State University’s “Cowboys Coming Back” plan during the COVID-19 pandemic is an in-depth return procedure with one major flaw: it may rely on students not partying.
“I fear for my life, honestly,” OSU junior Fox Nelson said of the plan.
Nelson, who has Type 1 diabetes and could have a more severe COVID-19 case, is not alone in their thinking. With thousands of students returning to campus, a spike in cases could already be inevitable due to the contagious nature of the novel coronavirus.
But when those students go to parties, bars and other off-campus events, things may get even worse.
“We have to rely on students’ compliance — we can’t enforce off-campus behavior,” said OSU director of media relations Monica Roberts. “Student choices are critical in keeping the numbers down on campus and in the Stillwater community.”
Off-campus social gatherings also worry OSU-affiliated medical experts. For some, a plan that relies on college students not partying will be detrimental to the efforts.
“Mask mandates, the changed classrooms to allow for social distancing, a lot of these activities have been addressed within (the plan), but the unknown factor is what will students, faculty and staff do outside of campus,” said OSU health sciences professor Dr. Randolph Hubach. “So we can take proper initiatives on campus, but human behavior is difficult and often short lived and so we have to have environments that are conducive to support that change.
“So if you have bars or events that are not facilitating the same behavioral change, that could still lead to transmission occurring on campus.”
These types of environments have always existed in modern Stillwater and continue to stay open despite a virus that has killed 163,000 Americans. And the students keep showing up.
“As a student at Oklahoma State for the past two years, the bars are showing that students are willing to gather under the right circumstances and love to show their pride in socializing,” said OSU sports management major Keaton Hargett. “I feel that if we can gather to party, that we can gather for Oklahoma State football and Oklahoma State education.”
Hargett’s mentality is shared by a number of OSU students as well. Some students look at the mortality rate for their age group and shrug it off like it’s nothing to worry about. Medical experts warn against this line of thinking.
“If (a student) is to contract it and then we pass it on to someone else, ultimately it could reach someone who’s not able to handle the virus,” Dr. Hubach said. “So individuals that are on our campus that are our friends, our peers, our fraternity brothers, our sorority sisters that might have an underlying condition that they might not even know about. How will COVID impact their health outcomes? Secondarily, we really don’t have a great understanding yet of the long term implications of COVID infections in even those of younger age. We know it could impact lung function, it could also impact the brain and other aspects of the body.
“For your overall health and well-being, we better take protection.”
The United States department of health estimates that one-in-five non-elderly Americans have a preexisting health condition, with some never getting diagnosed.
With a potential outbreak looming, OSU officials have discussed some future measures that could be taken — but some points remain vague.
According to a document obtained by the O’Colly, the testing capacity at university health services will be maintained throughout the semester, but there will not be recurring testing of students on a systematic basis, faculty members will “not necessarily” be notified if there is a student in their class that tests positive and the decision to potentially go all-online during the semester will be “determined by the rate of increase of infections per day, number of hospitalizations per day, rate of decrease in availability of hospital beds and (intensive care unit) beds.”
The report emphasized that “there is NOT a case number threshold that would trigger the switch (from in person class to online).
With students moved in and classes beginning on Aug. 17, OSU is transitioning into phase five of its reopening plan. When thinking about the plan, Dr. Hubach remembered when he was a college student and how he’d feel about going to class during a pandemic.
“I think it’s an unknown,” Hubach said. “I think as a student I would probably have lots of questions and I think that we have to recognize that we could have some questions, we could have concerns, it’s OK to express those concerns and those questions… If you don’t feel safe in a situation, talk to a faculty member or your (community mentor) or whoever it could be and let’s come up with solutions.”