EDITORIAL: SMU’s COVID-19 Response Endangers Entire Community

President Turner has doubled down on SMU’s decision to continue classes and university gatherings as usual, despite the growing coronavirus concerns in our community. The university’s decision will inevitably put students and the general public at risk.

President Turner’s statement to the SMU community relayed that the university has no intention to extend spring break, transition all classes online, or cancel large university events for the time being. SMU is waiting to take these preventative measures “should it be necessary,” but by the time someone in our community becomes infected, these measures would be essentially meaningless.

There is no question that the risk of further outbreaks will worsen in the coming weeks. Many SMU students and faculty plan to travel during spring break, and the recent reports of COVID-19 in Dallas-Fort Worth are still developing. The likelihood that SMU will be forced to eventually take these measures is very high.

If they act now, SMU will not have to make desperate decisions at the last minute. Such decisions have caused chaos to ensue at other universities around the country, leaving many students stranded and scrambling to make necessary accommodations.

The university can still anticipate and limit the spread of the virus while the SMU community remains relatively isolated from it. Until the city and region have a testing and containment system that can prevent the spread of COVID-19, institutions should be taking bold measures to prevent its spread. SMU is no exception.

SMU must extend spring break for at least an extra week to give community members time to watch for symptoms. This will also grant our governing bodies and healthcare institutions the time they need to develop a system that can contain what the World Health Organization (WHO) has now deemed a global pandemic.

SMU should follow the example of nearby universities in temporarily transitioning classes online until April at the earliest. Most importantly, SMU needs to cancel all large event gatherings, which are the known cause of many outbreaks across the country.

The university has a responsibility to everyone in the community, including those who are least able to adapt to drastic, short-notice changes, like international students and graduating seniors. Continuing as normal until it is too late does not only endanger the campus community, but those outside of campus who are most vulnerable. Our parents, grandparents, and sick loved ones are all at a higher risk of infection should normal campus activities continue.

If COVID-19 were to make it into our community and spread, our students and faculty would inevitably advance the virus throughout the general public. SMU’s reluctance to take any form of meaningful action puts everyone at risk, and its impossible to say for sure how dramatic those implications would be.

This is an unprecedented situation for everyone involved, but SMU has a duty to go beyond what is “necessary,” and do everything they can so that students can adequately prepare, stay safe, and keep their loved ones healthy.