Rising COVID-19 cases in Marquette have sparked concern and fear in students at NMU. A recent change.org petition calls for the remainder of the semester to switch to online classes. The student who began the petition which has garnered almost 400 signatures, Sophia Pezze, junior and medicinal plant chemistry major, shares why she began the petition and her own concerns.
“My concerns regarding cases increasing in Marquette is the continuation of community spread. Marquette County’s cases were increasing before the spike at NMU, and now NMU is following suit. There are students that work at grocery stores, retail and restaurants which are exposing themselves to the Marquette population and then coming onto campus. I also have concerns about UP Health ICU beds [and] ventilator capacity being reached,” Pezze said. “I chose to start the petition because I have taken this pandemic extremely seriously since the end of January when I was researching what was happening in China. I believe the students’ voices aren’t being heard or taken into account. I have discussed with many students that feel unsafe coming to campus, who feel trapped into risking their health to succeed in their courses.”
Pezze’s personal concerns for the student body led her to reach out to President Fritz Erickson regarding the petition she created.
“I have not received a response from the University regarding the petition, but I have had a small email thread with President Fritz. At the time being, I am not quite satisfied with the responses,” Pezze said.
Her concerns are shared by many students, and while the safety steps previously taken by the university have been ample, according to Pezze, they have not been enough.
“I want students to know we can be proactive and not reactive, that closing down early could have better outcomes than forcing in-person activities until the end of the semester,” Pezze said.
One response that has come from the university is the shutting down of Temaki and Tea, Smoothie King, Fieras and Melted. A decision that was made due to close-contact quarantines related to a positive case from an employee at each location, according to the NMU press release on Nov. 5. Alexandria Tabernacki, a student worker at Temaki and Tea, shares her thoughts on the decision.
“I was not at all surprised that it was shut down. I was actually very happy to hear that they were taking the action. I am a student who has all online classes already and doesn’t have to go on campus at all. With that being said, I had multiple co-workers who do go to classes that were exposed at class. It was becoming a big worry of mine not knowing who might have been exposed in the class they went to,” Tabernacki said through Facebook.
Rumors have been circulating about an outbreak happening in on-campus restaurants. Several students who work at the Northern Lights Dining have denied these claims, and Tabernacki shares her own experience at Temaki.
“I do not see an ‘outbreak’ being a thing at a specific location. Each coworker I am around spend their time how they want or need out of work hours, such as going to class or even attending the bars around Marquette that are open. If you were to say there’s an outbreak at Temaki, you are saying there’s an outbreak in all of Marquette,” Tabernacki said. “I feel all ample COVID-19 precautions have been taken to prevent an outbreak at Temaki as we have been very clean and strict from the beginning of this pandemic.”
The North Wind reached out to Erickson who has said that he has not seen the change.org petition, but offers an explanation as to why NMU has chosen not to close for the remainder of the semester.
“We haven’t switched to online classes because they’re kinda a broad based approach, in fact, increases in cases can be very [specific]. So instead of having to shutdown labs for example, lab classes when issues may have been predominantly related to athletics seems not to make a lot of sense, and yet we should do the actions that link up to where cases are rather than simply just take the broad-brush approach,” Erickson said.
To limit the spread on COVID-19 on campus and tackle the specific areas of disease instead of shutting down all of campus, Erickson recently made the decision to close the PEIF and limit visitors on campus.
“A high percentage of our increase happened out of student-athletes so that’s why we stopped the next couple of weeks of athletic practice for the teams that didn’t have imminent competitions….The other thing is we’ve done some analysis on how many students are coming to class. We have fewer students coming and taking advantage of the face-to-face option. And so I think this is a progressive process based on our feelings. But of course we’re doing all of the quarantines and isolations and so forth along with needing to shutdown a couple of food service locations that were particularly impacted. Most of the impact and growth that is happening is happening off campus. So that’s kinda what we’re looking at, how we can monitor both on and off campus activities,” Erickson said.
The increase in concern from students has brought up questions of remote learning. Erickson also stated that students have the option to do entirely remote learning, however this option is not clearly stated and has not been mentioned in any recent updates from the president. Erickson did mention in an update on Oct. 30 that they have started talking to staff about being prepared to switch to remote learning if necessary.
“We want students to, of course, be safe and remain safe. Students have the option to go to remote learning. Most of the classes we have in fact have been very responsive to our students that have needed to do this given their situation,” Erickson said.
As for what is to come next semester, the plan is largely the same, according to Erickson. The plan currently is to maintain the same protocols and react to arising situations, however they are still looking at the current plan.
“We’ll respond to whatever the current situation is with our very best approach to it at that point. But at this point in time we are thinking we could very well [use] the same process or at least put it in place and continue that forward next semester,” Erickson said.
As for the increase in cases, the NMU COVID-19 taskforce, whose answers were given through Chief Marketing officer Derek Hall, and are not attributed to an individual, has been monitoring the increase in cases closely and explains where they have been coming from.
“The majority of cases reflect the increasing community spread — more cases for employees and off-campus students who obviously live in the community. Local health experts suggest factors contributing to the increase in the community have been the fall colors tourist season, prison staff who live in the community and were positive but asymptomatic until full testing began taking place there, and travel to and from other U.P. hot spots,” according to the NMU COVID-19 taskforce.
The concerns about Halloween in the change.org petition may have been another contributing factor to the recent spike in cases, as well as the election, but it may be too early to tell, according to the NMU COVID-19 taskforce.
“The NMU Police Department coordinated with the City of Marquette Police regarding patrolling for Halloween parties last weekend. President Erickson did a ride-along with NMU Police Chief Mike Bath. A few smaller gatherings were identified, but NMU has not received reports of additional big Halloween parties. If there was an unreported big party that was a super spreader, it may be too early to see a spike as it often takes 5-10 days for individuals to become symptomatic. We are aware of a party from two weeks ago that did contribute to several positive cases.”
The NMU COVID-19 taskforce explains that there are mixed opinions when it comes to the recent change.org petition.
“We review all of the many petitions that students set up during an academic year and consider the requests within each, including this current petition. In this case, we have been hearing from as many students, faculty and staff who want us to finish the semester in-person as we are hearing from students, faculty and staff who want us to switch to remote learning, teaching and working.” For more information about COVID-19 on campus, go to https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/dashboard.