OPINION by T. KEITH GURNEE
The Tribune’s recent report about Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong’s reopening plans highlighted a letter written and signed by 426 faculty, student, and staff members registering concerns about those flawed plans and their potential to generate another spike of COVID-19 infections on campus. That letter strongly urged Cal Poly to rely exclusively upon online learning rather than open classes.
Then came the Tribune’s Viewpoint by Morgan Philbin that drove home that point in spades. Unfortunately, Cal Poly is ignoring those concerns while plowing ahead with its reopening, convinced it can control the spread of the virus on campus with only limited testing.
And then came Cal Poly’s revised reopening plan with only token modifications just one week before students are arriving. Cal Poly will accommodate even fewer students than originally proposed in on-campus dorms, forcing even more students to find housing out in the community and beyond Cal Poly’s control.
What’s galling is how little concern has been expressed about the potential exponential spread of coronavirus throughout the community of San Luis Obispo. This situation should be alarming to us all.
What are other universities doing about this?
Already, many universities throughout the nation have witnessed significant jumps in COVID infections both on campus and off campus. Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, USC, University of Tennessee, and University of Alabama have all had to make adjustments in face of the rapid pace of coronavirus infections. Some have even dropped their plans for reopening, resorting exclusively to online instruction instead.
With Cal Poly’s undergraduate enrollment of 21,037 students, 8,500 who would traditionally live in on-campus dorms, Cal Poly will now be able to accommodate only 5150 students on campus or about 60 percent of their dorm capacity. Instead of the 12,537 students who would normally live off campus, there will now be nearly 16,000 students trying to find housing out in the community in an already tight housing market.
Ask yourselves: where will all these students be coming from? From areas with higher COVID rates than ours in San Luis Obispo? With Cal Poly limiting on-campus events and gatherings, where will these young students vent their primal urge to congregate and celebrate as college students want to do?
You guessed it. Right here in San Luis Obispo where Cal Poly has no control over their behaviors. While it’s up to our local police department to monitor and enforce out-of-control parties and noise complaints within the city limits, their hands are already full.
Off campus partying
If you don’t think there will be more parties when those 21,037 students descend upon the community, just look at the daily police log on the city’s website to realize what is likely to happen. According to Police Department records from January to July 2020, there have been 864 party/noise complaints. That’s 214 more than the same period last year.
Last month alone, there were 132 party/noise complaints with some parties exceeding 40 people without face-masks and social distancing. Yet the vast majority of police responses resulted in “no violations” with only 13 receiving citations.
Now Cal Poly will tell you that it will enforce their policy on their students for off-campus parties. What they fail to tell you is that unless the party host is issued a violation, they won’t even know that a student hosted one. The soonest they’d learn about parties occurring from Thursday through the weekend would be Monday. That’s four days to allow COVID-19 to spread throughout our community before discovering it. This makes us ripe for another major COVID-19 outbreak.
Consider the consequences
Universities throughout the country have already seen this occur and we shouldn’t expect anything different. We’ve been on the State Watch List since July 13 and we’ll remain on it indefinitely if Cal Poly goes through with their flawed reopening plan.
With the COVID-19 lockdowns, their related business closures, and never-ending protests disrupting our downtown, our small businesses are running on fumes. If Cal Poly persists on reopening with another spike in COVID, it could be devastating to the physical and economic vitality of our struggling community.
Where are our city leaders on this issue? Cal Poly, please rethink what you are doing to our community.