Opinions, Featured Column, Op-Ed

Be People for Others in the Time of Coronavirus

With the announcement of Harvard and Amherst College moving all courses online and ordering or encouraging students to stay home after Spring Break, my colleagues and I are eagerly awaiting an email from Boston College’s administration about what steps they are taking to respond to coronavirus. Moving courses online and encouraging those who can to return to their homes and families would be the appropriate response to this pandemic. If we are truly people for others (as our school’s motto dichotomously insists we are), the administration should be concerned about community transmission and reducing the potential burden through social distancing. Social distancing slows down transmission and reduces the immediate burden on the health care system, allowing our health care infrastructure to respond to the outbreak appropriately (this is called “flattening the curve”). 

An informal survey of 48 students in my undergraduate public health course found that only 63 percent of students are concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak but that 87.5 percent believe that courses should be offered online during the outbreak. The more concerning statistics are that the majority of students (58 percent) do not feel like they could self-quarantine appropriately on campus due to a large number of roommates and an inability to cook in their dorm rooms/suites. Twenty percent of students do not have access to hand sanitizer, and 52 percent of students do not have access to a thermometer to assess temperature. 

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I am concerned that the administration has not taken swift enough action toward social distancing. Because cases of COVID-19 are present in neighboring areas like Wellesley, Newton, and Natick, community transmission may be taking place.  There are immunocompromised people on campus and being served by our social work and nursing students. It is our obligation, as a Jesuit university, to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak with compassion and reason by enacting social distancing measures—moving classes online, encouraging students to return home if feasible, and making work-from-home a viable option for faculty and staff.


People for others wash their hands frequently.

People for others disinfect surfaces in their dorm rooms and suites.

People for others avoid large crowds and groups. 

People for others self-quarantine when showing symptoms.

People for others care about older and immunocompromised people on campus.

People for others know that it’s important to “flatten the curve.”

People for others care about sufficient health care capacity.

People for others trust in public health. 

Nadia N. Abuelezam is an assistant professor in the Connell School of Nursing at Boston College.

March 10, 2020