At the time of writing this piece, four Monroe County residents have died within the past two weeks from COVID-19. The first was reported four days after IU football’s season opener against Penn State, the second on Halloween and the remaining two the day after election night.
Four may seem like an insignificant number — a drop in the ocean of the more than a quarter of a million Americans who have died so far from the coronavirus. It would be an exercise devoid of compassion, respect and empathy to diminish the significance of their deaths, though.
Those four people, whoever they might have been, were members of our community. They made others laugh, thought deeply about what matters to them, listened to someone’s sadness, frustrated their family, cared for a sick friend and loved deeply. In their deaths, a friend was lost. A family mourned a grandparent or parent. The lives of those around them will not be the same after these past two weeks.
They were human and flawed, just as much as the rest of us. But they mattered, and their deaths are not insignificant.
Since football returned Oct. 24, the rolling average for COVID-19 cases in the county has increased from 24 to 54, or 633 new cases reported as of Nov. 7. On Saturday, there were 80 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, which is the highest number of patients recorded throughout the pandemic.
Judging by the emails IU has sent its students, you would think everything was OK. The student affairs monthly newsletter sent Monday begins with “Keep up the great work, Hoosiers!”
Most students are doing great work — they’re wearing masks and social distancing. However, there’s a concerning number of students who aren’t, and IU has not publicly acknowledged this.
“We got here together in large part thanks to your compassion, respect, and empathy for your fellow students and IU community members,” the email said instead.
It appears ritual at this point to gather in large, unmasked crowds on Kirkwood Avenue after a football game. We’ve all seen the videos on social media, and we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t assume parties took place afterwards. Yet the university has not said a word. In fact, they praise our irresponsibility and negligence.
Is it compassionate to tailgate with 30 of your closest friends? Is it respectful to celebrate a football victory in a large crowd without masks? Is it empathetic to physically and verbally harass a journalist documenting your irresponsibility?
Now would be a good time to remind ourselves of a July Letter to the Editor titled “From Bloomington to returning IU students.” The author pleaded with us to remain vigilant and to remember that we’re all one community. Their words ring even more true months after its publication.
“Today, we’re writing to tell you we're scared,” it read. “The Bloomington community, for the most part, has done a great job trying to stay safe, wearing masks, social distancing and following strict reopening guidelines. And so, as we look toward your return en masse, we’re terrified.”
Students have proved the Bloomington community’s worst fears correct. They endanger workers from those in bars and restaurants to the Uber driver they call on to take them home. They ignore the financial and racial barriers to health care many members of our community face. They sentence their neighbors to a disease still highly unknown.
And for what? Those students still going to parties and rushing unmasked into a crowd of their peers won’t let anything stand in the way of their American college experience, so they allow cases to rise and disregard the deaths of four people.
They’ve done it all with the tacit approval of the university. IU invited them back to Bloomington. IU voted for the return of Big Ten football and stood by as students’ families travelled into town and celebrating fans massed at the stadium and in the streets. Words of condemnation would likely do nothing to stop the mess they’ve made, but to praise us as empathetic willfully ignores reality.
IU football is ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, while the state of Indiana is ranked No. 10 in the U.S. for most deaths per 100,000 residents in the last seven days. Likewise, the last week saw more COVID-19 cases than in all of March through May 17.
As we approach winter — an especially dangerous point of the pandemic — we must all reevaluate our priorities. The health of the community hosting IU and its students cannot continue to be jeopardized for the university’s profit and your entertainment.
From IU’s returned students to Bloomington: Compassion, respect and empathy are qualities the university fails to set a good example for, and many of us are just as scared as you are.
Kyle Linder (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and international relations. He wants everyone to join a union.
Allyson McBride (she/her) is a junior studying English and political science. She is the press secretary for the College Democrats at IU, nonfiction editor for An Inkslinger's Observance and a member of IU Student Congress.