To Chancellor Everts and the Appalachian State University Board of Trustees:
Throughout the course of obtaining my bachelor’s degree in biology and now in pursuing my M.S. at Appalachian State University, I have been privileged to obtain many invaluable skills. These skills have included the propensity to think critically, the ability to read and analyze primary scientific literature, and a sound understanding of statistical methods and models. It is slightly ironic to me that the skills I have gained at Appalachian are the very skills that now lead me to question the judgement of my university’s administration. However, ongoing developments regarding the spread of COVID-19 within our community drive me now to speak up and urge you to swift action on behalf of the entire student body, our faculty and staff, and the Boone community at large.
I am proud to be a Mountaineer, and I believe that our university is proud to have me as one, as evidenced by my Chancellor’s Fellowship in pursuing my graduate degree and my position as a Graduate Student Ambassador. My pride in Appalachian State stems directly from who we are and what we are here to do. To directly quote our mission statement:
“Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as engaged global citizens who understand their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all … We embrace our obligation to help create healthy, just, and sustainable societies by equipping our students to live with knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility, and dignity.”
Although my pride in our university as a whole remains undiminished, I find myself deeply saddened by some administrative choices that have failed to honor our mission by placing the welfare and health of our community first above all else. I call upon you now to uphold our mission by taking specific steps to protect us from COVID-19 by 1) ending all athletics programs for the 2020-2021 academic year, 2) closing all dormitories immediately for at least the remainder of this semester, 3) temporarily disbanding all greek life organizations for the 2020-2021 academic year, and 4) moving all classes fully online for the 2020-2021 academic year.
I recognize that we are living in unprecedented times that encompass types of adversity that we have never experienced before. I recognize that as the highest tier of our university’s administration, the burden of pandemic-related decisions has undoubtedly weighed heavily on each of you. I recognize that there are no easy choices, and that balancing the financial, logistical, and educational needs of our university has surely been a daunting task. I would like to express my empathy and compassion to each of you for the challenges you have faced and the tremendous responsibilities you have borne. Nonetheless, I ask you now to make more hard choices in taking the steps I have outlined above.
In asking that those steps be taken, I ask you to choose us. I ask you to choose every single student, every single faculty and staff member, and every single person living in the town of Boone who cannot help but be affected by our presence here. I ask you in light of the recent death of one of our students, Chad Dorrill.
I do not ask you this lightly. I call upon you to take these steps due to the unassailable evidence that we are currently experiencing a major outbreak of COVID-19 in our community, and that without swift action, this outbreak will undoubtedly continue to grow and result in more deaths. Specifically, I would like to point out that despite relatively stable numbers of tests conducted each week, at the end of the week of September 27th our percent positive test rate rose from 3.5% to 9%. Although a 4.4% positivity rate is presented on the ASU webpage, this is an average of all positivity rates since the beginning of the semester, and is irrelevant in gauging the current spread of COVID-19 at our university in that is does not reflect the current situation as is shown by the weekly percent positivity rates.
It is worth noting that on May12th of this year the World Health Organization advised governments worldwide that percent positivity rates should remain at or below 5% for 14 consecutive days before reopening1. Although we are not a state or country, this guidance is still applicable, and we are dramatically failing to meet this simple metric of when it is safe for a community to be open and operational.
I would like to point out that during the week ending on September 27th, only 1,418 tests were conducted on-campus. The student population numbers 20,023, while instructional faculty include approximately 1,250 individuals. Without accounting for staff members, this means that less than 7% of our community is being tested in a given week2. This means that our margin of error in estimating COVID-19 case rates may be very high. One CDC study found that for every 1 positive COVID-19 test, there are anywhere from 6 to 24 more cases in the population, and notes that in most cases, it is likely that greater than 10 times more SARS-CoV-2 infections exist per positive test3.
Further, I would like to emphasize the role of athletics, greek life, and dormitory living in driving community spread. According to the university’s website, thus far there have been 59 cases associated with the football team, 13 cases associated with the wrestling team, and 5 cases associated with the volleyball team. With regard to greek life, there have been 9 cases associated with the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, 10 cases associated with the Kappa Delta sorority, 10 cases associated with the Chi Omega sorority, 10 cases associated with the Kappa Alpha fraternity, and 14 cases associated with the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. Finally, with regard to student dormitories there have been 10 cases in Raven Rocks residence hall, 20 cases in Thunder Hill residence hall, 6 cases in White residence hall, 6 cases in Eggers residence hall, 5 cases in Summit residence hall, and 5 cases in the Living Learning Center residence hall2. The cases associated with athletics, greek life, and dormitories alone total 182. The only ethical and morally-responsible choice is to temporarily end, disband, and close these university entities.
I beseech you to protect our community and our lives by taking the steps necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although these steps may incur financial hardship for the university and may disappoint many students, there is no value greater than that of a human life. I ask you to consider the data I have presented here and the perspective that only in ending all athletics programs, closing all dormitories immediately for at least the remainder of this semester, disbanding all greek life organizations, and moving all classes fully online can you fulfill your duty to the entire Appalachian community.
Our lives are in your hands. Please do not fail us.
Chloë Marie Dorin
M.S. Biology, Appalachian State University
Graduate Student Ambassador
Graduate Teaching Assistant
1Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. (2020). Which U.S. States Meet Recommended Positivity Levels? Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/testing-positivity
2Appalachian State University. (2020, October 1). Reporting COVID-19 Cases – App State. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.appstate.edu/go/coronavirus/reporting/
3Havers FP, Reed C, Lim T, et al. Seroprevalence of Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in 10 Sites in the United States, March 23-May12, 2020. JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 21, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.4130