For a university that prides itself on its Christian identity, Baylor’s COVID-19 response is an abandonment of the values it preaches. How did we get so far from caring about the sick, weary and burdened?
Baylor needs to do more to protect the vulnerable members of its community. Baylor needs to do more about the atmosphere on campus which puts even the most vigilant in harm’s way. It’s time for a change of course.
The university’s response in the spring was swift. On March 11, Baylor extended spring break for a week and implemented online instruction for the following two weeks. There wasn’t a single case on campus, in Waco or McLennan County.
Over the next five months, cases skyrocketed. There were 239 positive tests in the Baylor community from Aug. 1 to Aug. 23, and, according to McLennan County data, over 5,000 cases were reported in the county before the first day of school.
Yet here we are.
Online instruction in the spring had its hiccups, but overall it was a resounding success. Faculty had just a week to transition their teaching method, and they showed up with a level of passion and understanding that should make Baylor proud.
Since then, the school has poured money into training its faculty and staff on online and hybrid methods. Somehow, course instruction has become more complicated as some teachers struggle to adapt to teleconference technology, even with 76% of classes still held in-person or in a hybrid format.
Perhaps it’s the teachers being forced to cater to both online and in-person classrooms, as over each day since classes began, an average upwards of 439 people in the Baylor community have been in isolation.
Or perhaps it’s the technical issues, as some classrooms are better equipped than others for students to Zoom in, and others make it difficult to post lecture videos after class finishes. Without the opportunity to watch lectures in a timely manner, students are falling behind and missing valuable time with their professors.
As Baylor left campus, there wasn’t a high demand for tests. Over the summer, people in Waco waited for up to 10 days for their test result as positive cases spiked with average positive numbers breaking 100 per day as we entered July.
Baylor ramped up its testing regimen, testing every student, faculty and staff member before instruction began. The university has also made getting a test on campus incredibly easy, and it is even testing north of 1,200 members of the Baylor faithful each week to attempt to curb the potential of an outbreak.
But the strategy of testing everyone from the outset happened too early. Students took their tests and then got on planes or drove cross-country, bringing along any and every infection along their way. Baylor totaled 417 positives in students’ first week on campus as out-of-towners spread the virus throughout Waco to who knows how many people that don’t have access to the resources Baylor provides.
There comes in the moral dilemma that Baylor slipped on. Yes, students are probably safer on campus than they would be in many of the towns they call home, but are the Wacoans safer now than they were three weeks ago?
Baylor’s Christian Mission
Jesus once said the second most important thing we could do as Christians is to love thy neighbor. Putting those with suppressed immune systems at risk isn’t loving the community. Giving COVID-19 to a local Whataburger employee isn’t putting love first. Risking the lives of faculty members isn’t loving thy neighbor.
Baylor’s mission statement revolves around its commitment to Baptist tradition and the teachings of the Bible. One of its core convictions is to “equip individuals to understand life as a divine calling and thus serve society and the world in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How can Baylor claim this as 846 members of the Baylor community have tested positive since Aug. 1? In President Linda Livingstone’s “First week of semester review,” she said she felt “confident in calling the first week a success.”
With Baylor on track to cross the 1,000 case mark this week, how is that many people contracting a deadly virus promoting “the health of mind, body, and spirit as these are understood in the Christian tradition and by the best of modern physical and psychological science”?
Baylor has a wealth of knowledge at its back that most communities don’t — epidemiologists, theologists, psychologists — to assess an appropriate response with respect to its Christian Mission. Were they listening?
Think of the immunocompromised who may not have been able to take a 100% online schedule this semester. They are terrified that they’ll end up hospitalized or dead because the school they call home didn’t prioritize them.
In John 15:12-13, Jesus said “‘my command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
He called us to love each other. He called us to protect each other. He called us to be there for one another. He called us to leave behind our normal lives so we could be a reflection of Him.
Just because the immunocompromised aren’t a majority of the population, it doesn’t mean their lives are any less important than other students. In fact, more people are at risk than one might think, as according to an August study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of people 18 to 29 years old are high-risk.
It’s our job to protect them and others who might be harmed more severely by this virus, whether we enjoy the precautions or not.
The Fatigue Problem
Wearing a mask is inconvenient. Social distancing is inconvenient. Then again, scheduling dentist appointments and paying bills are also inconvenient, but they are necessary to maintain health and well-being.
It’s been nearly six months since this pandemic put America in a chokehold. People’s lives have been uprooted in unimaginable ways, and because of a new normal creeping in, over 40% of Americans polled June 24-30 reported mental health struggles due to the pandemic, according to a CDC study.
But now isn’t the time to put convenience ahead of safety. We’ve already seen the effect of that thinking: most cases in Baylor’s community have come from lax off-campus practices. Since suspensions of students and a fraternity won’t catch people’s attention, maybe some numbers will.
Think about that. Since March 20, every 2.7 days America has lost the number of lives equivalent to the amount terrorists took on Sept. 11, 2001. Why aren’t people freaking out?
Americans have numbed to the daily, rolling death count reported to them as they get out of bed. Every one of those lives matters. Every one of those lives was someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter. They are people who, without the ignorance to this virus that Americans have so brazenly clung to, would still be with us today.
So because you want to go to your party, or because you want the revenue from tuition and football games, you’d like life to just go back to normal? It won’t. So please, do start acting like it.
Greek Life comes second to people’s lives.
Football games come second to people’s lives.
Homecoming comes second to people’s lives.
In-person instruction comes second to people’s lives.
An Appeal to the Decision Makers
The Lariat started out the school year asking why students are here, and some people are left with that same awful taste in their mouth. Why are we still here?
According to the World Health Organization, positivity rates should maintain below 5% for at least 14 days before the community reopens. Baylor’s positivity rate through the first week on campus was above 12%.
Now, the administration says that Baylor’s rate was artificially high without the random population it started testing this week, but what other community randomly tests its citizens?
Most of the time tests are administered when someone is showing symptoms or has been in contact with someone who tested positive. Random testing will artificially lower the positivity rate by testing people who would not have a reason to get tested otherwise. The results are already prevalent, with the positivity rate dropping to 5.09% over the last seven days.
Surveillance testing — though helpful in finding asymptomatic cases — pads the numbers, even if that’s not what the university intends. If anything, not separating the general rate and the surveillance rate provides a false sense of security.
It’s time for Baylor to rethink its strategy here. A number of its students don’t feel safe, and with other students not respecting the science laid out in front of them, it isn’t fair to those who do care to keep the groups together.
President Livingstone, please give students the option to go online for the rest of the semester.
Protect the people who want to be protected. The situation has devolved so much since the deadline to request an online only schedule, a request which wasn’t guaranteed to be approved in the first place.
But with the state of the campus, students should have the same option as their counterparts at Texas A&M (every section has an online option) and the University of Texas (6% of classes are in-person), a true online option.
In the meantime, pray.
Pray to keep us safe from this virus. Pray for those who are scared to be calmed by God’s grace. Pray for those who remain unaffected by this virus. Pray for those who have seen the tragic effects COVID-19 can reap.
Lastly, pray to soften the hearts and minds of Baylor’s administration. They are tasked with making impossible decisions, and they need all the strength and wisdom God can provide to do what is in His heart.
Editor’s note: A member of the editorial board is immunocompromised.