Covid Cluster Rocks Western Students

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On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Western Carolina University released a statement exposing a cluster of 17 COVID-19 cases from students, all residing from Harrill Residence Hall. This is the first and largest cluster of cases we have seen yet this school year and raises some concerns with parents and students alike.

The Coronavirus, a familiar name plaguing the mouths of everyone globally since January 2020 has continued to ravage the United States. Our very home here in Cullowhee is no exception. The beginning of the WCU 2020 school year seemed calm enough with only minimal cases appearing here and there. We have been mostly spared of the outlandish case rises in other major universities however we are now starting to face the consequences of becoming too lax with preventative measures. 

While the origin of the 17 person COVID-19 cluster here at WCU is unknown, it is a popular theory that it could have been caused by off-campus parties that seem to continue to occur no matter the consequences. As the semester continues the outlook for students to remain on campus is beginning to take a bleak turn as more and more people contract the virus and are quarantined on campus. 

“If they just didn’t go out or didn’t breathe on each other, there would be no cluster,” WCU freshman and integrated health sciences major Aubrey Peoples, said. “My outlook for staying on campus, well, I don’t want to get sick,” She said. To her, the answer seems clear, however unfortunate. “I think we are here maybe two more weeks.” 

As if fear of the possibly life-threatening virus blooming on campus isn’t enough, the email delivered to all students using the “emergency notification system” about the cluster reveals a strange and frightening underbelly to what the school deems as an emergency notification.

“Today’s message will be our only use of the Emergency Notification system to report clusters. This communications strategy in no way diminishes the university’s sense of urgency in ensuring that this information is shared in a timely, transparent and accessible fashion. The Emergency Notification system is meant to communicate the most critical and urgent information for the safety of the campus, and the university is following best practices in its use.” 

The email states that we will no longer use the emergency notification system for COVID-19 cluster related information that the change has no intention to disrupt the timely passage of related information. There is no ill will, however not using the emergency notification system to inform students of a possible COVID-19 cluster in the future may diminish the effectiveness of all the precautions WCU has put out to keep students safe. 

For now, the after-effects of the 17 person COVID-19 cluster remain to be seen as people in close contact with the 17 students get tested and wait with bated breath to see their results. It is the hope of myself and many other students that this group of positive results could trigger the beginning of a renewal of attempts to stop the spread of the virus on campus. 

As of Tuesday, Sept. 2, there are a total of 91 cases among students, 3 employees and 4 subcontractors.

More information can be found via WCU’s COVID-19 Dashboard.