Letter: Town Must Act Decisively to Protect Public Health

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Editor’s note:  The following letter was also sent to Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

If we have learned anything through this pandemic it is that if you don’t wear a mask and don’t social distance and you ignore science the virus doesn’t care if you are a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst or the President of the United States. And that if you choose to ignore these simple things you run the risk of hurting those around you, perhaps irrevocably.

Quoting The Daily Hampshire Gazette:

In a statement, the university said experience shows the most effective public health practices are education and frequent testing.

“Emphasizing a confrontational approach can be counter-productive and deter participation in contact tracing efforts,” the university stated.

“However, if students are involved in egregious or repeated acts in violation of the UMass Amherst Community Agreement, such matters are forwarded to the Dean of Students for review and potential sanction under the Code of Student Conduct.”

Why is this still an acceptable response from the University? After all the education, communication and testing that has already occurred – at great cost – students continue to hold parties and ignore all requests to do otherwise. As of today I can see an increase in positive tests for off-campus students having risen by 61 in the last 2 weeks. 

I and many others have repeatedly raised this concern about not dealing with the issue at the point at which it is occurring for almost two months now. Including my question on the DONA (District One Neighborhood Association) call – to which you responded it was a matter of resources. What kind of resources are being spent on contact tracing? What kind of costs are being expended in medical care and lost wages and time for those infected? What are the long-term health and wellness deficits that some of these infected students may be left with for years? Not to mention the cost all the kids and parents in Amherst are now paying for further delay of opening of the elementary schools.  And it seems to me you are losing the confidence of our community – which seems very costly. 

I think we need to hear publicly why the Town is still not pushing the University or responding itself to parties as they are happening and doing what is necessary at the point of breach of behavior to protect the community against potential spread of the virus.

It’s quite infuriating to keep reading the same responses from the University about “education and encouragement” at the same time we are watching positive COVID rates skyrocket in our small town as result of these repeated breaches going unchecked. 

Again, I ask, what is it going to take? 

Robin Jaffin

Robin Jaffin, a long-time resident of Amherst, spent 18 years as the Director of Programs for Verité, developing and implementing human and labor rights monitoring and remediation programs globally. She is co-founder of  www.FODMAPeveryday.com which provides resources and recipes in support of the low FODMAP diet for IBS.  She is a grateful Hampshire College graduate, founding employee of The Black Sheep Deli & Bakery, and was co-owner of The Harvest Moon Bakery. 

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