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"Key meeting" set for this week to discuss Reunions in light of meningitis outbreak

Following the University’s decision to cancel overnight stays for Princeton Preview, the Alumni Association is scheduled to meet later this week for a “key meeting” that will discuss whether changes should be made to Reunions this year in light of the meningitis outbreak, according to Associate Director for Reunions Mibs Mara.

Mara declined to comment further until the meeting has taken place.

In response to the outbreak of meningitis, which began in March 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and the and the New Jersey Department of Health advised members of the University community to increase hygienic practices and avoid sharing items such as drinking glasses and utensils, but did not advise the University to curtail any of its events or activities.

No changes were made to Reunions last year, even though the situation at the University was officially designated as an outbreak less than two weeks before Reunions was set to start.

The University recently announced that it will cancel overnight stays during Princeton Preview for the health safety of newly admitted students. The change was made in light of the recent death from meningitis of a Drexel University student that was linked to contact with University students. Although the University has hosted vaccination clinics from Dec. 8-11, 2013, Feb. 17-20, 2014 and March 26-27, an investigation done by the CDC revealed that is likely that the death at Drexel was caused by a Princeton student who carried the disease but did not show symptoms.

Meningitis bacteria are spread through close personal contact such as sharing utensils or kissing, and those who have been exposed to the bacteria can still carry the disease even if they do not show symptoms, as the bacteria can lodge in their noses or throats.

But alumni interviewed said they were not excessively concerned about meningitis.
Christine Chen ’13 said she would feel safe visiting campus, meeting friends and attending Reunions as a whole.

“At least what I’ve read up about meningitis, I know how to prevent it — wash your hands, don’t share drinks, don’t come into close contact with people,” Chen said. “The University does a great job disseminating information, and everyone should be well informed about this and how to prevent it.”

Chen nevertheless added that Reunion’s night life and the presence of children are her primary concerns. She explained that, while adults attending Reunions might make a conscientious decision to protect themselves from meningitis, kids do not necessarily care about hygiene and might be at greater risk. She also said that while adults may protect themselves during the day, Reunions at night is an entirely different atmosphere.

“You only have to see the sea of plastic cups littering the lawn of Blair Arch to know what happened,” Chen said. “It’s that sort of environment, the night time activities, that can encourage the type of behavior and lack of sound judgment that the University is precisely trying to curb with this change in the Princeton Preview scheduling, with no overnights.”

Like Chen, Jacob Reses ’13 said he would feel safe going to Reunions, noting that the odds of his getting infected are not high at all. He added, though, that he does think about meningitis as a whole and how the disease could spread beyond the campus.

“It’s a really tricky problem, and I feel bad for the administrators who are trying to work on it,” Reses said.

Reses added that the main issue he is wondering about is how the University plans to address meningitis, adding that the University should take its time on whatever it decides to do.

“There are smart people who deal with outbreaks like this who are probably advising them,” he said, “and I’m sure that, whatever they do, they’ll have thought it through very carefully.”

However, Kristin Epstein ’97, the Outgoing President of the Princeton Area Alumni Association, stated that the recent meningitis outbreak has not affected her decision to attend Reunions at all.

“I haven’t heard any buzz about it.” Epstein said, referring to the meningitis outbreak based on conversations she has had with other alumni.

Reunions will take place from May 29 to Jun. 1.

Sharon Deng ’17 contributed reporting.

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