Notre Dame leader Covid-positive after White House event

John Jenkins apologises for shaking hands and not wearing mask at ceremony

October 3, 2020
Notre Dame
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The president of the University of Notre Dame tested positive for Covid-19 after visiting the White House for the Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett, at which he shook hands and did not wear a mask.

The Revd John Jenkins believes he contracted the virus from a colleague with whom he was in regular contact, and he appears to have mild symptoms, a Notre Dame spokesman said in a statement.

Notre Dame issued the announcement shortly after President Trump reported his own infection with the virus that has killed a world-leading 200,000 Americans as Mr Trump has tried to minimise its seriousness.

It comes as US higher education grapples with its own doubts about how to handle the pandemic. Hundreds of institutions have welcomed back students to their campuses for the fall semester, leading to an estimated 3,200 new infections each day in communities nationwide.

Revd Jenkins apologised for his behaviour at the White House event, calling his close contact without a mask an “error in judgment”. He already had apologised in August, however, after posing for a photo in close contact with students.

In the early days of the autumn semester, several US universities moved classes online or sent students home after infection outbreaks they largely blamed on students being too immature to respect social distancing guidance.

As campuses were reopening for the autumn, the chief lobbyist for the American Council on Education, the main US higher education association, said that institutions would work hard to prevent illnesses.

“God forbid that someone should die,” ACE’s senior vice-president for government relations, Terry Hartle, told a podcast with the educational consultant firm EAB. Using average mortality rates, however, the 3,200 daily infections attributed to college reopenings could be expected to produce about 90 deaths a day.

Revd Jenkins was part of the White House event last Saturday because Ms Coney Barrett had been a faculty member of the Notre Dame Law School. Ms Coney Barrett tested positive for the virus earlier this year, The Washington Post reported.

Following his positive test result, Revd Jenkins “is entering an extended period of isolation as indicated by university medical personnel and county health officials”, the university spokesman said.

In the statement, the Notre Dame leader called the infection “a good reminder for me and perhaps for all of how vigilant we need to be”.

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