C/O Alexandra Koch

McMaster is shifting the blame of COVID-19 to students and the government is prioritizing money over safety

In light of the increasing COVID-19 cases in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has put further restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some restrictions include limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, bars and restaurants closing at midnight at the latest and closing strip clubs across the province. 

In addition, McMaster University has also acknowledged the rise in COVID-19 cases through social media posts on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community. The post advises students to wear masks, stay home if you are unwell, keep your distance and also to avoid holding or attending parties.

All of this is important — we have a responsibility to keep our community safe. I’m not disagreeing with any of that. However, institutions such as Mac and our municipal and provincial governments have been shifting most of the responsibility of preventing COVID-19 to the individual level when they have a large responsibility to keep us safe, too. If institutions and governments continue to prioritize financial gain over people, this pandemic is going to last a lot longer than it has to.

I can’t bring myself to fully blame the individuals who are out clubbing, eating indoors and not following the physical distancing guidelines set out by Public Health. We’ve heard a lot of mixed signals from the government — Ford mentioned that anyone who breaks the rules surrounding gatherings can be fined $10,000 as an organizer or $750 if you are an attendee. The government has been setting these rules so that we can protect everyone’s health. Yet, events that are held in staffed facilities, such as restaurants, gyms and convention centres are excluded from these gathering limits. So if an individual holds a gathering with 11 people who are all wearing masks, they can face a large fine, but if a restaurant has up to 50 people indoors who are eating without masks, it’s okay. How is one safer than the other?

So if an individual holds a gathering with 11 people who are all wearing masks, they can face a large fine, but if a restaurant has up to 50 people indoors who are eating without masks, it’s okay. How is one safer than the other?

If we’re really focused on safety, bars and restaurants shouldn’t be open, period. I’m not sure why the Ontario government thinks that closing bars and restaurants at midnight will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. As far as I’m aware, COVID-19 doesn’t spread more easily after midnight and Ford admitted that not many people eat at restaurants at night — so why is the government focusing on time restrictions when they should be focused on limiting the number of people who can dine indoors? It seems like the government is focused on keeping our economy running to the point that they’re willing to give businesses a free pass when it comes to restrictions. Yes, people should try to avoid going to restaurants and bars as much as possible. But the government is the reason why these businesses are open in the first place.

McMaster’s actions deserve to be critiqued too. While I commend the university for making most of our courses online, Mac has made it clear on social media that students must protect our community by not participating in house parties and avoiding campus when possible. It’s true that there has been an uptick in student parties, but it’s not always possible for students to remain at home. Students may visit coffee shops to take advantage of reliable wifi or different study spaces. Maybe their home isn’t a safe or easy place for them to study. But because classes are running, these students have to find a way to study — even if it’s unsafe. Just because something seems non-essential to you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t essential to someone else.

Just because something seems non-essential to you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t essential to someone else.

To me, it feels like McMaster is acting as though they play no part in the spread of COVID-19, distancing themselves from their students’ actions. This is patently false; restaurants on campus such as The Phoenix, TwelvEighty Bar & Grill and The Grind Café continue to be open. There’s quite a dissonance between having McMaster telling its students to stay away from campus but keeping restaurants open and even going as far as promoting them. Although the latter two are run by the McMaster Students Union, there has been no public communication from the university to close these restaurants to keep students safe. At the end of the day, the MSU is part of the university, so they should be included in the guidelines that McMaster has put in place.

A second wave is approaching us. While we have a responsibility to continue physical distancing and wearing masks to keep everyone safe, institutions and governments need to understand that their restrictions and rules allow for this virus to keep spreading. Our actions are important, but McMaster and the Ontario government shouldn’t be absolved of their responsibility in keeping us safe.

Our actions are important, but McMaster and the Ontario government shouldn’t be absolved of their responsibility in keeping us safe.

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