Marking one year of COVID-19 at ASU

The State Press reflects on a year of covering the coronavirus and its effects on the University community

People across the world reacted in shock and mourned the death of Kobe Bryant on Jan. 26, 2020. The State Press newsroom was no different, but another story broke that day that consumed the newsroom in the weeks and months to come: The ASU community had reported its first case of the coronavirus – one of only a handful of confirmed cases in the country.

Our reporters and photographers sprang into action to cover the immediate increase of racism of xenophobia on campus while students rushed to drug stores to stock up on supplies. 

Masks and hand sanitizer quickly sold out near campus and many of us in the newsroom thought the fearful reactions were overcautious and unnecessary. Instead, the behavior foreshadowed what was to come. 

One year since the first case at ASU, there have been nearly 6,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases within the University, more than 730,000 in the state, and our stories on the virus have exceeded 300. 

After the initial wave of panic, in the month following the first positive, things calmed down and talk of the coronavirus stopped on campus. Our reporters covered political rallies, 3D printing technology and new dorm construction in the meantime, just before ASU announced the two weeks following spring break would be conducted online. 

And before break had even ended, the University declared the rest of the semester would be online as universities across America announced the same.

The months since then have looked roughly the same: Classes have operated largely on Zoom, in-person events have stopped, COVID-19 infections have spread, students and faculty alike are continuously stressed and the University has maintained that it successfully operated during the pandemic.

Through it all, The State Press, largely remote with reporters and editors living across the country, kept up coverage of ASU's ever-changing messaging and data.

Over the summer, as cases in the state spiked and the University continued vague messaging on how it would operate in the fall, reporters featured community assistants who had quit, faculty who were confused by protocol and worried about teaching in-person, students who were unsure of what to expect and health experts who pointed out holes in the University's plan. 

After the University announced in August it wouldn't release the number of reported cases on campus, it reversed its policy a month later and made a dashboard, which is updated twice a week.  

We prepared for the worst when ASU reopened, seeing active COVID-19 cases within the community climb to as high as 983 in the early weeks of September with classes continuing to operate in person. We saw dozens of parties occur off-campus, and the Tempe Police Department consistently issued student-related party citations until the department abruptly stopped telling us which parties involved students right after Halloweekend.

Video by Ryan Tisminezky 

We experienced the struggles of learning mostly online alongside other ASU students, from the technical issues and Zoom fatigue to adapting to an education lacking in its typical physical and social substance. We also learned about and covered how students believed their money was being wasted. 

We uniquely learned how to ask University spokespeople for records we believed would yield results in holding the school accountable for decisions made for students, faculty and employees. 

Since COVID-19 began, we've sat down with ASU President Michael Crow five times and asked him a range of questions about how he understands the University's COVID-19 response to be a success, the likelihood of break cancelations, updates on tuition rates and the CARES Act. 

And we've asked a number of clarifying questions of spokespeople past 9 p.m. once case updates have been posted as to why the data changed from cumulative to active cases, why the dashboard suddenly reflected positives from random tests and if we had done the math wrong or if the University had made an error. 

But, with a vaccine site now open on ASU’s campus, a new stage of the COVID-19 pandemic is here. Hopefully by next year, instead of late-night case updates, our reporters will be able to focus on literally anything else.

Editors Hannah Foote, Wyatt Myskow, Piper Hansen, Jeffrey Horst, Ellie Borst, Andrew Howard and Adrienne Dunn contributed to the reporting of this article. 


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