An off-campus party that included student athletes on Oct. 2 resulted with a pause being implemented on all off-season sports.
While not all partygoers were student athletes, it’s reported that 150 people attended the function that took place where some Fort Lewis College football players resided, Brandon Leimbach, Athletic Director of FLC, said.
A few faculty members, that live on the same street as the football players, texted Leimbach in the early morning on Oct. 3 about a party being broken up by the police, Leimbach said.
“By them not wearing masks and being in close proximity for an extended period of time, as we know, puts them in an increased risk for transmission,” Leimbach said.
Darruis Smith, the Head Football coach, and Leimbach met with the tenants who lived at the house and discussed their inabilities to take COVID-19 protocols seriously, Leimbach said.
Sophie Schwartz, Vice President of the Associated Students of FLC, wants students to have
the foresight on those people who have a higher risk towards COVID.
“Keep in mind of the surrounding community in the area before we think about going to parties or being able to socialize,” said Schwartz. “If you're aware of COVID then you would know how irresponsible it would be to go to a party as well as understanding the consequences.”
Tom Stritikus, President of FLC, doesn’t wish to scold students, instead he wants to focus on shifting behaviors for the time being so that everyone can be responsible to each other, he said.
La Plata County’s public health order says that public household gatherings can be no more than ten people and no more than two different households, Stritikus said.
There was some trust lost within the athletes who attended the party and the athletic department had to hit the pause button, Leimbach said.
The ability to continue to work in-person on campus while preventing a spread will only happen if students continue to stay vigilant, even if it gets exhausting, Shwartz said.
“The more serious we take it, the more temporary of a thing it will be,” she said. “As long as we continue to stop the spread right now, it'll probably go away faster.”
The teams that are in season, Cross Country and Golf, had no party goers present and this allowed them to still be able to continue their sports season and participate in the competitions, Leimbach said.
To resume a robust testing protocol and continue with local public guidelines 100 percent of the student athlete population was re-tested after the party on Oct.2, Leimbach said.
“All sports that are out of season, were able to take this week off and get their testing done,” Leimbach said.
As of Oct. 2, there had been zero active cases in athletics and athletes have been getting tested every week, Leimbach said.
“The last thing we want to do, if there are positive cases, is not put them in a situation where it can spread and lead to an outbreak,” Leimbach said.
If there had been any positive cases then that would have resulted in contact tracing, coming up with proper isolation plans and doing everything the school can to mitigate the spread, Leimbach said.
Once those factors are determined and we know it's safe to continue, we'll be happy to hopefully increase those opportunities, like practice, again for our athletes, Leimbach said.
“We need to be compliant with the COVID policies, people just need to realise it's bigger than their sport and it's bigger than the athletics department,” Leimbach said. “It's about the entire college, we can't be selfish in our desires to want to party over playing sports.”
The important thing is making sure that FLC continues to remain in-person so that students can reap all the benefits of a college experience during a pandemic, Leimbach said.
Leimbach expects the student athletics to conduct themselves the same way off-campus as they are doing such a great job on-campus, he said.
The athletic department recognizes all the good work they were able to do up to this point, but the consequences are far reaching, Leimbach said.
“Football practice was supposed to start Oct. 5, so to take what feels like a thousand steps backwards, it’s just really disappointing knowing we were so close to moving forward,” Leimbach said.
Stritukus confirmed that none of the tests reported positive on the aftermath of the party, he said.
“Social connections with students is such an important part of college life”, Stritikus said. “One of the great tragedies of COVID is having to make adjustments to that.”
Stritikus says he misses those opportunities to connect such as inviting students over for dinner and learning about their experiences as college students, but he’s still finding ways to reach out to people while keeping in mind that these restrictions will pass. Not in spring quarter, but hopefully in the near future, he said.
“This is difficult for everybody, for loved ones, social connections are how we develop as humans,” Stritikus said.
There will be a time for parties, but there is a need to push the aspect of the students being in this pandemic together while considering how our actions could impact others, he said.
“Socialize outside if you can, in small groups distant from each other,” Stritikus said. “Unfortunately this is not the time to go to a gigantic house party.”
While Stritikus wants to avoid a punitive route, he still wants students to adhere to those protocols because even though someone might not be a risk, somebody close could carry the disease to a grandparent or sick spouse, he said.
“Education is the most powerful tool we have and we're going to continue to be relentless around educating people around this,” Stritikus said. “We also have disciplinary policies and continue to remind students why this is working.”
The FLC Student Conduct Policy: COVID-19 Addendum, says, “students not abiding the #FLCTogether Pledge will be charged in accordance with the Conduct Policy and Procedures.”
Those conduct policies and procedures include not gathering in groups of more than ten people and maintaining at least six feet distance between yourself and others.
The Addendum also states that, “sanctions will be determined by the designee of the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and outcomes are not appealable. The range of sanctions include warnings, probation, educational requirements, campus service, removal from campus housing, removal from student employment position and suspension from the College.”
Stritikus stresses that COVID is not linear, it can change things in an instant, he said.
“I'm proud of the way our students have responded and I'm going to continue emphasizing that,” Stritikus said.
There is no interest in addressing hypotheticals, such as another party happening, but students do need to know that there is a public health order that states indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, Stritikus said.
“I do really appreciate what great leaders our students have been around this,” Stritikus said. “Wellpac and ASFLC have had great ideas, no one trained us to manage a global pandemic.”