My Turn: Welcome back, UNH students; do your part to keep us all safe

For the Monitor
Published: 8/11/2020 6:40:16 AM

As the University of New Hampshire and the town of Durham prepare to welcome back the UNH student body to campus and the community this month, the rate of COVID-19 infections around the nation continues to increase.

This latest spike in the spread of COVID is marked by one particular difference: Young adults are getting infected at much higher rates than they were during the spring. Why is this the case? According to The Hill on July 18, “Younger Americans eager to get back to their social lives are increasingly responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, risking their own health and that of their family and friends under what health experts say is the misguided impression that the virus cannot cause them harm.”

NPR’s Nurith Aizenman reported on July 24 that for weeks, the U.S. coronavirus pandemic has largely been driven by spiraling outbreaks in the South and West, but some forecasters indicate Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states could soon be in deep trouble again, too. The warning comes from researchers at the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has built a model to provide longer-term forecasts for every U.S. county. Here are two takeaways:

■The virus is marching up the East Coast. In recent weeks there’s been a noticeable trend of rising cases moving northward from Florida up travel corridors like I-95.

■New England is at risk. Transmission rates in New Haven are clearly increasing. The state of Rhode Island has increasing transmission. In the Boston area, we’re seeing the same patterns we saw a couple of weeks ago in Philadelphia. We now have an outbreak on Cape Cod. And we’re seeing more of the virus in New Hampshire.

It’s all too clear that COVID-19 continues to steadily move through the population, filling hospitals to capacity and resulting in a state-by-state rush to stem the tide. Around the U.S. and in our case, here in Durham, we need everyone, and particularly UNH students, to modify their behavior to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

As more people recover from COVID-19, many will find their ordeal may not end when the infection is over. It can result in prolonged illness, even among young adults without underlying chronic medical conditions. Examples of prolonged complications include: fatigue, headache, insomnia, chest pain, cough, joint pain, vertigo, skin rash, brain fog, shortness of breath, heart arrhythmia, hypertension, and more. Lois Parshley from Vox reported on June 12, “It is a true roller-coaster of symptoms and severities, with each new day offering many unknowns.”

Sadly, locally we have witnessed highly concerning behavior among young adults in Durham throughout the summer and the majority of these young adults are UNH students. Whether it is in backyards at off-campus rental units or in large student gatherings downtown, students have largely not been physical distancing, have not been wearing masks, and have gathered in large groups.

Residents who live next to off-campus student rentals and who shop downtown, at Hannaford, at Rite-Aid, at D-HOP, etc. have grown increasingly concerned as young adults have disregarded public health advice and ignored the recommendations emphasized by both the WHO and the CDC along with state, local, and Durham officials. Pong tables have been observed at multiple locations. Large gatherings have occurred all too regularly, and physical distancing has not.

In other college communities across the nation, the behavior of students in residence for the summer has resulted in super spreader fraternity parties, which have worried Durham leaders and residents. Recent coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to fraternities at universities in Washington, California, and Mississippi, and some experts predict it may be an example of what’s to come as many colleges reopen for in-person classes beginning in August. A potential result of this irresponsible behavior nationwide is that colleges and universities may well have to abandon their plans to bring students back to campus for the fall term.

UNH and Durham leaders have been working tirelessly together since spring to devise a responsible plan to reopen campus this fall for the approximately 15,000 students enrolled. UNH wants you back. Durham wants you back. You want to be back. But everyone involved must conduct themselves in a manner that will give our collective community the best likelihood of avoiding a local COVID outbreak, which could bring in-person learning to an abrupt end. So we invite you with an open hand to join our team. It’s vital that UNH students physical distance, wear a mask, and refrain from participating in large gatherings. To this end, mask-wearing is now required in downtown Durham by local town ordinance, just as it will be required on campus by UNH.

Don’t squander all that we have planned and achieved to make in-person education possible for UNH this fall. Our collective health as a community depends on it.

Learn more at #unhtogether.

(Todd Selig is a UNH alumnus and has been the administrator for the town of Durham since 2001. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Durham.)


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