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03-13-20-suitcase-travel-covid19-coronavirus-chase-sutton
Credit: Chase Sutton

Since the beginning of the spring semester, a worrisome number of Penn students have exhibited callous and careless behavior with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic as demonstrated by Penn’s uniquely high case rates, the continuation of parties and gatherings despite social distancing guidelines, and the faking of Penn Open Passes to get around the University’s rules. Although case rates have declined in recent weeks, many students have continued to behave irresponsibly, both misusing their privilege and actively causing harm to others.

This trend has continued over the past few weeks with many students traveling to COVID-19 hotspots, receiving vaccines not meant for them, or both. Penn students who are currently living on-campus or even off-campus in Philadelphia are extraordinarily privileged to be here, and they need to act accordingly. Penn students are not inherently entitled to be in West Philadelphia — or anywhere but their hometowns — during a global pandemic, but it is an opportunity that many people have been presented with nonetheless. As such, Penn students must stop abusing their privilege, for they harm local communities and their classmates by continuing to do so.

Despite the university’s implementation of Spring Stay to discourage travel, a surprising number of Penn students made the decision to travel to destinations that have been hotspots for COVID-19, such as Puerto Rico and Miami. Over the course of the pandemic and especially recently, Puerto Rico has been inundated by large numbers of reckless tourists who have driven up infection rates, disrespected the island, and frustrated the locals.

Students who traveled to already hard-hit and under-resourced locations like Puerto Rico not only put their native populations at risk, but now also risk infecting more West Philadelphians upon their return. As students arrive back at Penn from various parts of the country and the globe, it is almost certain that case rates will increase in the coming weeks, both among the student body and the surrounding population, putting even those who did not travel at a higher risk of infection.

In addition to endangering underprivileged communities both in Philadelphia and abroad, over the past few weeks, a number of Penn students have wrongfully used their own privilege to receive vaccines illegitimately. Not only have certain students lied about medical conditions to receive priority access to a vaccine, but others have attended vaccine sites that were explicitly not meant for them, such as the Penn Medicine and Mercy Philadelphia clinic which was created to vaccinate Black West Philadelphians and West Philadelphians of color as part of an effort to combat racial inequity in terms of both disproportionate case rates and vaccine distribution.

Penn students must stop treating Philadelphia and other domestic and foreign destinations with disadvantaged communities as a playground and seriously consider their active role in perpetuating the spread of COVID-19 to communities that do not have access to the same medical resources that most students do. Furthermore, they must stop stealing resources such as vaccines from communities which desperately need them; although many people want to be vaccinated, the average Penn student does not need a COVID-19 vaccine as desperately or urgently as the average Black West Philadelphian or West Philadelphian of color does, especially considering that many of the same students being wrongfully vaccinated are also the ones willing to engage in risky behavior. 

By not caring for public health guidelines and wrongfully taking resources from the surrounding community, Penn students have further perpetuated the University’s already rampant gentrification, both in West Philadelphia and now abroad. At the very least, students who made the decision to travel should now abide by the University’s ten day quarantine period so as not to endanger their peers or West Philadelphian neighbors. Penn students must take into consideration the dire consequences of their actions on surrounding communities and stop misusing their privilege for superficial purposes.

Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.

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