Fordham Must Communicate as COVID-19 Cases Rise


At the beginning of our fall semester, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued guidance requiring a university to suspend in-person classes and activities if it reports over 100 COVID-19 cases in a two-week period. After a largely successful effort containing the coronavirus last fall, Fordham University has unfortunately found itself in that situation two weeks into the spring semester.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, Fordham University’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 112 active coronavirus cases in the past two weeks. On Sunday, Feb. 14, Fordham’s dashboard jumped to 131 COVID-19 cases, and Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, suspended all in-person classes and activities.

McShane’s email arrived nearly 24 hours after the Fordham community noticed the increase in cases. In the time that passed, both the Ram and the Observer covered the rising number of cases. At the same time, Fordham athletics proceeded as usual, and Ram Vans made regular service between the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses. The Fordham administration’s lack of communication left the Fordham community in limbo, and the delay in response belies the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Days later, the university’s long-term plans for the next two weeks remain unclear.

Fordham University should have formulated and released a solid plan well in advance of reaching 100 cases. Considering Governor Cuomo’s 100-case threshold was announced in August, the university had plenty of time to develop the correct approach to an in-person shutdown and prepare a statement outlining that approach to the Fordham community. In reality, it took the university an embarrassingly long time to relay key information to its students, faculty and staff.

The Fordham community deserves clear and effective communication. The Fordham Ram called for transparency from the university last fall, and with 141 active COVID-19 cases currently at the Rose Hill campus, it is more important now than ever before. We ask that Fordham administrators share their plans with us as soon as possible. If we are to wipe out this outbreak, we must share a vision for how the university intends to move forward.

Decisions on university procedures, such as testing requirements during the two-week suspension, appear to be left up to Fordham itself, as Cuomo’s guidance on the matter seems to be open to interpretation. Testing will be crucial during the next two weeks if Fordham is to show that the COVID-19 outbreak is contained. As of this editorial, we have yet to hear of any proposed changes to the university’s testing plan in response to the uptick in cases.

New York’s vague and conflicting advice on coronavirus procedures is an insufficient guide to managing a campus COVID-19 outbreak. The responsibility falls to the university level, and the Fordham administration has made some notable missteps in handling a return to campus amid New York’s second wave.

The week ending Aug. 29, when students moved in for the fall 2020 semester, the Belmont area around campus had a positivity rate of 1.45%. The week ending Feb. 6, when students moved in for the spring 2021 semester, the zip code’s positivity rate was 12.67%. With this increased risk, it’s unwise to think that this semester would continue as smoothly as the prior one. However, the spring semester move-in process was nearly identical to that of the fall.

The university’s stance on parties and other gatherings also leaves plenty of uncertainty. On Feb. 12, an email from Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, said “the party you host or attend is directly hurting our ability to keep our campus open and services and activities available” and implored students to avoid “ANY unnecessary social gatherings.” Simultaneously, informational flyers on “How to Party Smart During COVID” from the Office of Prevention and Support appeared in on-campus housing. These mixed messages are detrimental to Fordham students struggling to make sense of university guidelines. 

While Fordham University’s policies and procedures are key to controlling the spread of COVID-19, students bear responsibility for their behavior both on- and off-campus. We urge you to follow the university’s advice in wearing your mask at all times, keeping a safe distance from others and avoiding large indoor gatherings. We ask that you not sneak around the measures that Fordham has put in place, whether the university actively enforces them or not.

We turn to the Fordham community that unites us all for clarity and guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic. Fordham students, faculty and staff deserve to be informed on the latest policies and their effects on university life. Everyone needs to be aware if we are to cut down our case numbers by March 1. Fordham University will weather this pandemic, but we will not do it if a majority of the university community is left in the dark.