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A plea to the people, part II

| Monday, August 24, 2020

To the members of the Notre Dame community,

Last March, I wrote a letter to the editor pleading with people to stay home and isolate as much as possible because the current governing administration was not at all prepared to keep us safe by taking the threat of this pandemic seriously. Today, I write to plea to you to stay home (or in your dorm room) and isolate as much as possible because the Notre Dame administration was not at all prepared to keep us safe by taking the threat of this pandemic seriously.

I love Notre Dame. I bleed blue and gold. But I am incredibly disappointed with how the University has treated its students, staff and faculty and the South Bend community since the beginning of August. When Fr. Jenkins announced that we would be returning to campus back in May, I was ecstatic. I was tired of being stuck at home and couldn’t wait to return to my real home under the dome.

Although I didn’t think Notre Dame’s plan was as robust as was necessary based on the guidance of science and nationally recognized epidemiologists, I thought that it would be enough to keep the curve flat enough to allow the University’s contact tracers to work diligently to contain the spread of the virus; and although I’ll never understand why we weren’t quarantined or even tested upon our return to campus, I still believe that the HERE campaign would have been enough to keep the virus under control if it had been implemented and enforced. 

I’m not going to waste my time describing all of the countless ways that students broke the rules. We’ve all seen the lack of physical distancing and masks on the quads, the ten chairs pulled up to a single table under the tents, the gatherings in dorm rooms and the parties. I was astonished to see how many people went to off-campus parties in the first two weeks. All that so many saw as an opportunity to get drunk with their friends for the first time in months with no regard for the simple fact that they could contract and spread a deadly virus.

The most surprising of everything that has happened since our return to campus is that students that attend the University of Notre Dame, supposedly some of the brightest young minds in the country, don’t seem to realize that amidst the worst global health crisis in a century, their choices and actions could kill someone. Let me say that again to make sure it sinks in: your choices and actions could kill someone. They could kill multiple people.

What if you exposed someone that works a second job in a nursing home? What if the dining hall worker that you didn’t stay six feet away from is immunocompromised and can’t afford to take a leave of absence? We all hold a grave responsibility to everyone in the Notre Dame and South Bend communities, especially the many at-risk population groups who have no choice in the matter. 

I will not pretend to be perfect. I was as careful as humanly possible before returning to Notre Dame, but the first night that I got back, the night before my scheduled move-in, I went to my friend’s dorm to catch up with him with no masks. I’ve eaten meals in larger groups on the quad. I’ve gone to dinner off-campus with several friends.

At the time I thought it was reasonably safe, that social distancing and mask wearing would be prevalent on campus and that at worst, if one of my friends had the coronavirus, contact tracing would quickly isolate and test anyone who was exposed. I was wrong. Never in a million years would I have predicted the degree of refusal to comply with HERE guidelines, the number of massive gatherings and parties and the complete lack of enforcement that has made the situation on campus so dire. Even the contact tracers are so backed up that it took me 28 hours to hear from them after my positive test results.

Everyone has made mistakes because we’re human beings and we make mistakes. This virus is an incredibly formidable foe the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations, and nobody was prepared to have their lives so dramatically overhauled by this global pandemic. We’ve had to practice social distancing for more than five months now and it’s been incredibly difficult for everyone; the entire Notre Dame community was excited for some form of return to normalcy and many of us let the excitement of being back with our friends lead to poor decision making.

I’ve even heard many students asking their COVID-positive friends to not provide their names to contact tracers because they didn’t want to have to quarantine, again, having no regard for the simple fact that not getting tested could allow them to spread the virus to others and potentially end someone’s life. And although I have held myself, my friends and everyone in the tri-campus community accountable, even to the point where it may have cost me several friendships, the people tasked with keeping us safe have not. 

There has been no enforcement of physical distancing on campus. There has been no enforcement of wearing masks outside, even when in close proximity less than six feet. Last weekend, there were well over a hundred people gathered outside of Alumni Hall with no masks or distancing whatsoever, and we’ve all seen the video of students fleeing the tent on South Quad when NDPD finally showed up several hours after the gathering began. 

The Observer’s front-page headline on Friday was “Don’t make us write obituaries.” That editorial was featured on CNN, and millions across the country have now read about how badly Notre Dame has contained the virus. This is national news. The entire world is watching as we have collectively failed to protect the members of our community, and as much as I would love to be isolated for eight more days and return to my dorm room and in-person classes, this is no longer about saving our semester. This is about saving lives; it’s about not fueling the worst global pandemic in a century that has infected at least 23 million and taken the lives of over 800,000.  

I’m a rather healthy twenty-year-old college student and this virus has brought me to my knees. In a span of less than 90 minutes on Friday night, I went from feeling fine to finding myself in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room. I have been in and out of cold sweats, nausea and fevers up to 102˚ with a persistent dry cough, sore throat, headache, body aches and extreme fatigue. I’ve had to have new bedding brought to my room four times in two days because it gets drenched in sweat every time I take a nap, and I’ve lost so much of my appetite that I can barely eat solid foods without feeling nauseous.

If you think that you’ll be fine if you get it, you’re wrong. Even if you’re asymptomatic, we have no idea what the long-term effects of the coronavirus are, and if spending 10 days in isolation means that I won’t be somebody’s cause of death, I have a moral obligation to do so and so does every member of the Notre Dame community.

The past is the past and there is nothing we can do to change that. What we can do is begin to take this virus seriously even when the people in power and those closest to us refuse to do so. Far too many lives have been lost to this virus already, and if sent home, we’ll be spreading it all across the country and putting countless more in danger. We must do our duty to God, Country and Notre Dame by staying safe, making good decisions and holding everyone accountable, no matter what the repercussions. 

 Go Irish, Beat COVID,

Ryan Murdock


Aug. 23

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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