Notre Dame responds to student newspaper's plea regarding Covid-19

More than 400 coronavirus cases have been reported in the Notre Dame campus community in the past 20 days. By Theresa Waldrop and Leah Asmelash, CNN

(CNN) -- After an editorial in a student newspaper last week pleaded with leaders at Notre Dame to not "make us write obituaries," the university said it agreed with the students' concern about the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

"Students, faculty and staff are all in this together, and it's only by working together that we can stay safe and continue to stay on campus for the remainder of the semester," said university spokesman Dennis K. Brown in a statement to CNN.

As universities and colleges return to campus, many are reporting coronavirus cases on campus. Notre Dame said Sunday it had 408 confirmed cases in the last 20 days among the campus community in South Bend, Indiana. The university has 8,731 undergraduates and 3,950 graduate students for a total enrollment of 12,681.

The university on Tuesday said it would move to digital learning for two weeks in an effort to stem the spread of the virus as the number of cases jumped. If the virus continues to spread, the school will shift to remote learning for the rest of the semester.

The Observer, a student newspaper for Notre Dame and nearby Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College, ran the editorial on its front page Friday, asking everyone -- students, the administration and faculty -- to do everything in their power to contain the virus.

"The University administration has largely blamed the COVID-19 outbreak on students attending off-campus parties," the editorial said. "While this isn't entirely misplaced, it has been used to deflect responsibility from the very administrations that insisted they were prepared for us to return to campus. Clearly, they were not."

The editorial cited flaws in testing, contact tracing and isolation and inefficient quarantine accommodations as evidence the university was not prepared. In particular, the editorial highlighted a nearly two-week gap between the return to campus and the implementation of surveillance testing which it said, "represents a gross oversight on the part of the administration".

"The blame for this does not lie with just one party. We -- as students, faculty, staff and administrators -- need to share responsibility for the outbreak on our hands," the editorial said.

If more isn't done, the editorial said, the worst may be still to come.

"We wanted to make the messaging clear that we all have a role to play in keeping the tri-campus community safe," editor-in-chief Maria Leontaras, a senior at St. Mary's, told CNN. "There are more people here than just young students who could possibly recover from the virus."

The editorial and the school's administration are in agreement, Brown said.

"As was made clear in the university's letter to students on Tuesday and The Observer editorial on Friday, we're on the same page," Brown said.

"The virus is a formidable foe," Notre Dame President Rev. Ron Jenkins said in Tuesday's announcement. "For the past week, it has been winning. Let us as the Fighting Irish join together to contain it."

Leontaras said she and other editors would like to see more transparency from the university, too, such as how many students are in quarantine.

The Observer's editorial ended on a sober note. Don't let us write obituaries, it said, but also: "Don't let us write yours."

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