This graphic went viral last week in attempt to scare the thousands of college students getting ready to return to campus this fall:
Now, with me being a student in Bloomington, this immediately caught my eye. When looking at this chart it looks like these college towns are most susceptible to being hotspots, or potential epicenters, of a COVID outbreak this fall. And Bloomington is right at the top. That could be true, but, unsurprisingly, that is not what the actual study that was conducted in this article seemed to be looking for.
At least not how I interpreted it.
My interpretation led to Yahoo Finance and SmartAsset conducting this research in order to look at the college towns that are most at risk, or “vulnerable”, to having an economic collapse due to COVID related lockdowns and restrictions. These campuses and local governments could be putting too tough of policies on their (mostly student) residents that will greatly impede on the growth, or stability, of college town economies. No where in this study does it talk about the actual spread and potential outbreak of the virus. They talk about the proximity/concentration of certain industries within the towns, but it doesn’t explain how that would necessarily lead to more of a spread than other places that have close proximities in bars, restaurants, hotels, and other institutions, like major metropolitan schools.
The article states, “in this study, SmartAsset uncovered places that are most dependent on the presence and spending habits of undergraduate populations”. The study goes on to look at students/undergrads as a % of the population, that % in the workforce, and how it will impact local, small businesses in these college towns.
We know that because of an overwhelming amount of young people in these towns, the chances that students die directly from COVID is extremely low. We also know that these towns depend on these colleges to provide a truly functioning economy for a majority of the year. If there are no students in Bloomington, for example, the place is a ghost town.
Tuscaloosa’s mayor has already stated that just with no college football alone the town is projected to lose $2billion of revenue this fall. These are real numbers that will have real effects on people.
So, when I saw this graphic getting shared around and the many comments that came about me “going into a future epicenter” of the virus, I thought it was important to share that we are actually going to a place that could be the epicenter of a college town economic crash and depression. If restrictions are too intrusive and classes get moved completely remote, then there will be an extended exodus outside of one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. It’s really a sad and angering thought. If that is the case, then people’s lives will be ruined. We can’t just stand by and let the great city of Bloomington fall.
I know how people want to be safe and I know that we need to come to compromises about the virus. We also need to come to compromises about the livelihoods of regular people. Public health is as broad of a term as I can think of and just making it out to be a black or white issue is going to continue to increase the dangers that we already see in front of us.
I reached out to SmartAsset asking for clarification on this study. I am still awaiting a response. I think that it is important to know and I think it’s interesting how this can be so differently interpreted amongst different people. Vulnerable is an interesting word choice and one that I truly believe is looking to strike fear into those who will be going back to campus this fall. Instead of being vulnerable, let’s be confident that we can contain the spread and function in a safe, powerful, and unified manner.
Let’s keep going forward instead of racing to turn back. Find the SmartAsset study here.
UPDATE: The headline has been changed as a result of my investigative journalism. I guess I’m a journalist now.