Students react to UMass’ communication during pandemic

School has sent frequent emails on trends in testing data

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Lisa Gherbi, Collegian Correspondent

On Friday, the University of Massachusetts announced that its seven-day positivity rate was the lowest it had been since the start of the spring semester. The school’s data showed a positivity rates two times lower a week ago and a three-and-a-half times lower rate than two weeks ago, according to an email from Jeffrey Hescock and Ann Becker, co-directors of the Public Health Promotion Center.

Throughout the semester, UMass has sent emails updating students on its close monitoring of COVID-19 test results. The school has typically notified students of patterns of rule breaking, of changes to the campus risk level and of positive trends in its testing data.

While many students feel UMass’ consistent communication throughout the semester has been coherent and beneficial, some students feel communication is only part of the solution to keep cases down.

“Communication is well-worded and we receive daily text messages and frequent emails and even TVs and posters in residential halls showcase precautionary measures,” SGA Senator and freshman computer science major Himanshu Padnani said. “But the truth is there is not enforcing of these precautions. Everything is honor code.”

“They have done a decent job communicating what’s happening but could have done a better job preparing for these spikes in cases,” added sophomore accounting major Daniel Cortese, currently living off campus.

In the latest email sent to students, Hescock and Becker announced that the Office of Student Affairs and Campus Life was featuring public health advice from the director of the UMass COVID-19 dashboard Laura Balzer. Balzer, an assistant professor of biostatistics, will provide twice-weekly video updates on data trends emerging in the community as part of the school’s “educational outreach.”

Communication sent by UMass has also continued to remind students that public health restrictions could be lifted soon if the community continues to follow the guidelines and protocols.

“The continued steady decrease in the number of positive cases is a testament to individuals following the public health protocols,” Hescock’s email read. “This has allowed additional openings on campus including the Recreation Center this week. Everyone must continue to remain vigilant with social distancing, mask wearing and socializing within your bubble. The continued decrease in cases will provide us the opportunity for some additional public health restrictions to be lifted.”

“Communication is good. but it is solely communication at the end of the day. If they are changing policies these policies should be visible,” Padnani said. “How are you planning on enforcing these polices? When cases are elevated and moved to high, we should feel like cases are high, it should feel like we are in a lockdown”.

Padnani didn’t believe the school’s response to the case spike at the beginning of the semester was up to par.

“Response to a spike shouldn’t be scapegoating the frats,” he said. “That is not a satisfactory response from the University.”

Lisa Gherbi can be reached at [email protected]