This past semester under pandemic restrictions, first-years who lived on Emory’s campus found new ways to spend their weekends. While some students followed COVID-19 safety precautions during social outings, Uber drivers reported a vastly different reality for other students who frequented bars and clubs.

“People don’t wear masks when inside places,” said German Martin, an Uber driver who frequently drove students to bars on the weekends. “They are distancing themselves from reality and what is really going on.” 

Without wearing masks or maintaining safe distance, partygoers celebrate Halloween at the Lost Dog Tavern./(The Emory Wheel)

Martin noted that he saw a rise in the number of Uber requests as the fall semester progressed.

Avoiding off-campus activities without proper health precautions is required under the Emory Student Community Compact, a document all on-campus students signed before arriving. The compact outlines expectations students agreed to, such as wearing a face mask and maintaining appropriate distance at off-campus events. 

Another Uber driver, Dane Bravo, said he picked up Emory students on campus every weekend since late August, often driving them to Maggie’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill or The Pool Hall, a bar in Buckhead. 

In addition to the risk of being inside a bar or club, Bravo said students who requested Uber rides didn’t always follow COVID-19 safety precautions. 

“There’s a couple times where I had to deny rides because they weren’t wearing [masks],” Bravo recounted.

As Uber drivers noticed more students going out, Emory’s COVID-19 cases began to surge. After Halloween, the University set record highs for COVID-19 cases, with 27 reported cases the week of Nov. 9. As of Dec. 1, the COVID-19 dashboard reported 94 total COVID-19 cases on campus. 

The increase in cases was most likely associated with off-campus gatherings over the Halloween weekend, Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz told the Wheel in November

“On Halloween, I’ve never seen so many Ubers show up to take people from all different buildings,” said Matthew Nails (22C), a Resident Advisor (RA) in Long-Street Means Hall. “There’s nothing stopping people from going out.”

Celline Kim (23C), a Sophomore Advisor (SA) in Hamilton Holmes Hall, also noted that dorms were exceptionally quiet on Halloween, and in some cases, appeared completely vacant.

The rise in COVID-19 cases at Emory parallels a broader trend of rising cases in Georgia and nationwide. According to The New York Times, as of Dec. 10,  499,300 cases were reported in Georgia, a 46% increase within the past two weeks. Nationwide, 15.3 million cases have been reported, an 18% increase within two weeks.

First-years on campus have also noticed their peers going to bars and clubs, and are concerned with the safety hazards those actions brought to campus. Kathryn Stachowicz (24C) said she believes her friend’s positive COVID-19 test came from other students partying and then returning to campus with the virus.

“It’s really disappointing that Emory students are so cavalier about the health of others and that they don’t seem to recognize that over 200,000 people have died and millions more have gotten sick in America alone,” Stachowicz said.

Kim echoed similar frustrations about first-years leaving campus to attend bars and clubs. She believes such students unduly place Emory staff members at risk.

“When students do that, they expose so many people once they are back on campus, like all of the staff,” Kim said. “There are staff that clean the buildings every single day, then they are always at risk.”

Stachowicz said she tested negative for COVID-19, but was contact-traced as a result of her friend’s positive test. She had to spend a few days in isolation at the Emory Conference Center Hotel. 

“It definitely would have severely impacted my mental health if I had been in there for longer than the four or five days that I was,” Stachowicz reflected. 

With the arrival of more students on campus next semester, Residence Life staff worry there will be more opportunities for the virus to spread. 

“Of course I wish freshmen could get the full first year experience. If you’re going to go out, be cautious,” Nails added. “We all wanna have fun but at what risk?”

Kim also found hypocrisy in first years’ desire for such off-campus endeavors. 

“You decided to come to college and go to a club?” Kim questioned. “It really does annoy me because most of the students who come to campus want to stay on campus, so acting in that way wouldn’t help that.”