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OU students mount efforts to promote COVID-19 safety, mitigation, express disappointment in university handling

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A phone with a message encouraging social distancing. 

After mounting frustration with OU’s response to the pandemic, such as allowing quarantined students to leave their rooms for food while still under quarantine, some students took it upon themselves to promote mitigation efforts through food delivery and social media. 

Biology junior Logan Pesina said she co-founded a group chat on GroupMe dedicated to providing information on all things COVID-19. She said the chat — which currently has nearly 700 participants — was created to “spread awareness” about COVID-19-related matters like masking rules on campus, where to receive COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and the difference between provided vaccines. 

Pesina said although the chat’s primary role is to promote safe COVID-19 practices, there are “strict rules” in the chat regarding bullying students for violating COVID-19 procedures. 

“I will not allow people to post pictures to shame another student who posted a picture of (themselves) on their social media where they're breaking COVID policy,” Pesina said. “I'm not going to allow someone to share their picture or their name around. I'm not going to allow bullying.” 

Pesina said she doesn’t believe OU is doing an adequate job of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. She cited the examples of the Cate Center testing site closing and quarantined students who could not have food delivered to their dormitory. Some students also said reporting maskless students through the general student conduct incident report form is “pointless” due to lack of enforcement and discipline.  

According to OU’s COVID-19 dashboard, since March 9, 2020, there have been 1,270 positive COVID-19 cases on the Norman campus. 

“When Cate was here, (OU) didn't really spread that much information about it,” Pesina said. “Also, if you’re a quarantined student, you don't get food delivered to you. You have to go get the food. There's no real point (of) you being quarantined if you're still in the cafeteria, interacting with people who don't want to be infected.” 

Meteorology freshman Daniel Carter said he has delivered food to quarantined friends residing in campus housing 10 to 15 times throughout the academic year. He said he spent his meal exchanges to purchase the food. 

“They were in a situation where they were helpless,” Carter said. “They couldn't do anything to be able to help themselves (or) to be able to have food (for) themselves.” 

Carter said he feels frustrated with the OU administration because they’re not providing food delivery to quarantined students, who’ve been identified as having been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive patient. He said it “doesn’t really make sense,” considering university employees deliver food to isolated students who have tested positive in Traditions housing. 

“They’re risking other people getting COVID-19 … just so the students who are in quarantine (can) get food,” Carter said. “It kind of makes me feel frustrated with how they're going about things.” 

Pesina said OU’s “prerogative” is money. She said OU will “make the choices” that will make them “more money” while “keeping their name clean in the public eye.” 

In an email to The Daily, OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith wrote students quarantining in on-campus housing who have not tested positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic are instructed to not leave their residence for 10 days except for “essential outings” such as retrieving food, medical care or medicine. 

“No prolonged outings are permitted,” Keith wrote. “Students are encouraged to use curbside pickup for any crucial outings and to wear a mask and socially distance any time they exit quarantine for essential errands.” 

Keith wrote if a student becomes symptomatic, they should contact OU Housing to be placed in self isolation spaces and instructed to test at OU Health Services. She said after a positive COVID-19 test and a self isolation placement, OU Housing and Residence Life will schedule food delivery for students. 

“OU Housing and Residence Life checks in with isolated and quarantined students and connects them to resources and services as needed,” Keith wrote. “OU Health Services also works with students who may have additional COVID-19 related health care needs.”

Keith wrote OU strongly encourages everyone to give full consideration to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She said OU will continue providing vaccine appointments on campus and information on vaccine clinics across the state. 

Despite the decline of COVID-19 rates, Pesina said she intends to continue utilizing the GroupMe chat for as long as needed. She said the content of the chat will always surround COVID-19 information, updates and discussion. 

In an effort to “(hold) people accountable for their actions,” OU freshman Doran Walters said she created an account on Instagram, known as @masklessou, during the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. 

“(I want) to bring a different perspective to campus culture that values wearing masks and being safe,” Walters said. “I know people who have died, and I have lots of friends who are disabled, and I’m disabled. It’s affecting Black and Brown communities (the most). It felt like people were just being privileged by ignoring (COVID-19).” 

On the account, Walters posts photos of OU students violating masking policies mandated by OU and Norman. She said she obtains these photos from other people and does not take them herself. 

“I’ve started reaching out to people, if I know who was in (the photo), to ask before I post them,” Walters said. “I don’t post every photo. I try to just post group and party photos to keep one person from having a ton of hate.”

To further protect the identities of individuals photographed, Walters said she blurs the eyes of the individuals in her posts and removes their photos upon request. 

Despite efforts to minimize hate towards the posted individuals, Walters said she has received backlash, including threats and false reports to the OU administration. 

“I’ve had someone show up in my (dorm) room and try to get me to fight them,” Walters said “I’ve had a conduct meeting over something I didn't do. They said that I was charging them to take down their photos which I wasn’t doing.” 

Walters said her family is concerned for her safety, adding “they know people can act without thinking.” She said she has stopped reading hate comments and direct messages on the account. 

“I think people think that I hate them, but I genuinely care about other people,” Walters said. “I want them to be safer. Even if they’re not being safe, they’re putting others at risk.” 

Both Walters and Pesina said they plan to continue utilizing their platforms to share information about COVID-19 into the fall 2021 semester. 

“COVID-19 will continue to be an integral aspect for our lives for likely years to come,” Pesina said. “In any case, the content of the chat will always be surrounding … COVID-19.”

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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