UNC basketball celebration: An unsurprising reminder of some inconvenient truths about the pandemic

There’s been a good deal of public handwringing and expressions of frustration from university leaders and public health officials in recent days in the aftermath of Saturday night’s impromptu street celebration by thousands of joyful UNC hoops fans.

Many in the crowd — comprised mostly of UNC students reveling in their school’s victory over arch rival Duke earlier in the evening — clearly threw COVID cautions and social distancing guidelines to the wind as they gathered in large, delirious, and often unmasked and undistanced gaggles.

Later in the weekend, reports also surfaced of at least two UNC basketball team members participating in a similarly unsafe post-game celebration at a private party — a development that appears to have played a role in UNC canceling it’s scheduled Monday night game against the University of Miami.

All of which, of course, is a about as surprising and predictable as Donald Trump lying about, well, just about anything.

Earth to the powers that be in North Carolina education and public health circles: We hate to tell you we told you so, but…we told you so.

As I noted almost six months ago in response to the failed reopening of several UNC campuses for the 2020-21 school year, the fault here lies not with the students, but with the adults in charge who thought that they could somehow dissuade young people with illusions of immortality from engaging in dangerous, but utterly predictable behavior.

And this fault is only enhanced when universities send the conflicting and unhelpful message that it’s okay to plow ahead with revenue-generating TV shows (aka big time football and basketball) that clearly put loads of people — athletes, coaches, officials, arena and stadium personnel — at enhanced risk of infection, even as they’re telling everyone else to stay in their dorm rooms and apartments.

What’s more this same hard truth goes for state leaders and K-12 education officials who think that they can somehow pull off reopening elementary and secondary schools without taking all the precautions necessary to do so with genuine safety — things like vaccinating teachers, assuring that every school has a nurse on campus, and making the investments necessary to provide copious amounts of personal protective equipment and school facilities that provide for adequate social distancing and air ventilation.

In other words, it’s painfully clear that North Carolina’s pandemic policies in the education world continue to be plagued at all levels by the same factor: a wishful reliance upon convincing children and college kids to alter their behavior, rather than on an investment of resources sufficient to allow colleges and K-12 schools to operate honestly, safely and responsibly.

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