The president of the University of Notre Dame has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, school officials announced Friday. The announcement came several days after he attended a White House ceremony.
The Rev. John I. Jenkins had been self-isolating on campus after the Sept. 26 event announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame alumna, as President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Jenkins had been criticized by students for not wearing a mask or following other public-health protocols at the event, and expressed regret to campus earlier this week.
Jenkins was the latest prominent leader to announce an infection Friday, a day that began with the revelation that Trump and the first lady had tested positive.
During his self-quarantine this week, Jenkins learned that a colleague with whom he had been in regular contact tested positive for the virus, according to an announcement sent to campus Friday afternoon. Jenkins was tested and found to be positive as well, so he is beginning “an extended period of isolation as indicated by University medical personnel and county health officials,” the announcement said.
In the statement to campus, Jenkins said, “My symptoms are mild and I will continue work from home. The positive test is a good reminder for me and perhaps for all of how vigilant we need to be.”
A spokeswoman for the university said they would have no further comment.
Last month, the prestigious Catholic university in Indiana switched to online instruction for two weeks, as virus cases rose rapidly in the early days of the term. Notre Dame, which has 12,000 students, resumed in-person classes earlier this month as officials determined the threat of an outbreak had diminished.
Jenkins is not the only university president to have gotten the virus — Harvard University’s president told the campus in March that he and his wife were ill, for example — but his attendance at the White House event raised questions.
Barrett is a professor of law at Notre Dame. Jenkins described the nomination ceremony in a letter to campus as an “historic event to support a faculty colleague and alumna of Notre Dame who is greatly respected by academic and judicial peers, revered by her students and cherished by her friends.”
But some students were shocked by photographs of Jenkins not wearing a mask at the ceremony in the Rose Garden, where guests sat close to one another.
Notre Dame requires certain behaviors for everyone on campus, and has made clear that mask-wearing and physical distancing are “key responsibilities” for every member of the community.
Some students called for Jenkins’s resignation for failing to comply with the school’s health protocols. Students living on and off campus at Notre Dame have been held to the standards set forth by the school’s coronavirus rules, they wrote in a petition, “and those who have not adhered to safety guidelines have received disciplinary actions consistent with their indiscretion, including several students being dismissed from the University for gathering in large groups without masks.”
They wrote that Jenkins had frequently reminded them to hold one another accountable for the safety and well-being of everyone, “and he can no longer, in good conscience, call the student body, faculty and staff to adhere to the safety protocol that he ignores.”
The student senate rejected the petition calling for his resignation, the student newspaper the Observer reported Friday, but planned to continue a discussion about the issue next week.
Earlier this week Jenkins expressed regret to campus for his “error in judgment” at the ceremony.
He said that he was tested when he arrived at the White House. “I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks. We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.”
But, he said, he regretted not wearing a mas and shaking hands with a number of people at the event.
“I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so,” he wrote. “I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.”
Rachel Ingal, president of Notre Dame’s student government, said Friday in an emailed statement, that “We extend our prayers to him during this time, that he may fully recover soon. We similarly continue to pray for all students, faculty, staff, and all others who are suffering from the coronavirus.
“Let us all remind ourselves that we must be vigilant and committed to doing our part in following all health and safety guidelines to ensure the safety of each other during this time.”