EDITORIAL: U. must balance coronavirus tightrope


Decisions made by Rutgers could lead to adverse impacts

With the coronavirus already moving classes at Princeton University and Fordham University out of the lecture hall and onto the confines of a computer screen, it should not surprise anyone that Rutgers followed in turn yesterday. 

"Fostering a healthy community in New Jersey is core to the mission of our University. While at this time we are not aware of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community, we have been closely tracking its spread across our region. We have an imperative to do what we can to slow the spread of this serious virus and protect those who are most vulnerable. This is a difficult and extraordinary situation, and I recognize that people throughout our community are concerned for their personal health and that of their families and friends," University President Robert L. Barchi said in a University-wide email.

It is important not to panic during times like this. As of Monday, the virus has only infected 15 people and caused the passing away of one in New Jersey so far, according to NJ Advance Media.

There is also the matter of the media when it comes to issues such as coronavirus, especially in an election year, when stories tend to become sensationalized to promote journalistic institutions and their balance sheets. This year, the Democratic and Republican parties are both using the virus as political fodder. 

“The coronavirus has quickly become a highly politicized election-year issue. Democrats have criticized President (Donald J.) Trump for reacting slowly to the crisis, for contradicting the advice of his health experts and for spreading misinformation about the virus. Trump has countered by accusing Democrats and the news media of exaggerating health risks to hurt his reelection campaign,” according to The Washington Post.

How much of this current panic consists of legitimate danger and how much is manufactured by the media and our representatives? The New York Times, for instance, has a running “live” tab of virus updates. It is a tough question for anyone to answer.

Regardless of how pressing the threat really is or is not, remaining calm and level headed is good advice for everyone. To help keep yourself calm, taking precautions against the virus — such as practicing rigorous hand washing — is advised.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also released other guidelines, such as staying home if you are feeling ill and to avoid touching your face, nose or eyes.

“Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick,” according to WHO.

The University is preparing to move classes online following spring break, which begins next Monday and continues through March 22. This begs the question: How should Rutgers cater to international students, out-of-state and financially disadvantaged students amid the threat of coronavirus?

Rutgers is a big school with a large amount of international students, many of which may not be able to leave campus at a moment's notice. Rutgers must keep dining halls open to accommodate those students.

A concern, though, is out-of-state and financially disadvantaged students who are forced to leave but do not have the means to do so. Rutgers should accommodate those students by allowing them to stay on campus.

At the same time, while Rutgers should make sure those forced to stay on campus are tended to, it also must understand how its own campus operates and why certain aspects of Rutgers life could promote the spread of the contagious coronavirus. 

The massive influx of daily riders and the coronavirus are like a ton of dynamite and a match. If the virus were to wind up at Rutgers, it would likely spread with incredible speed throughout the student body.

The University has a balancing act to do. While suspending in-person classes will certainly help mitigate the chances of a wider outbreak in the Garden State, some students will remain on campus and Rutgers needs to be aware of that.

Overall, students are mainly hungry for answers regarding the future of the semester, as well as the real-life dangers of coronavirus. Rutgers is an institution with students spanning the tri-State area and the world, so its leadership is critical during this time.

We want clarity and leadership. We want the University to be transparent with their plans for this semester, so students who have to stay on campus can prepare, and we want administrators — and other governmental agencies — to be clear about the danger that the virus possesses for those of us here at Rutgers.

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The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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