Four weeks into the semester, campus is adjusting to an endemic approach to Covid-19. In a shift from the last two years, the College now has a decentralized model in which there is no longer one point person for Covid-related information, but instead a task force of several individuals throughout the College.
On August 3, President Rose announced in an email that the College would open up significantly with less reliance on case numbers to dictate closures.
Current campus Covid protocol adheres to CDC guidelines, meaning that students are required to isolate for five full days after testing positive but can reemerge and attend classes again regardless of whether or not they test negative as long as they wear a mask. Students who test positive are, however, expected to continue eating in isolation for 10 days after they test positive.
Classes are unmasked, as are common spaces and the dining halls. The only individuals for whom masking is mandatory are those who are unvaccinated, have tested positive for Covid within the past 10 days or have been a close contact of a Covid case within the past 10 days. However, the College has adopted a “mask-friendly” approach and encourages students who are symptomatic in any way to mask and test daily until recovered.
For students that have been on campus in the past two years, Covid communication looks dramatically different this year. Instead of the frequent emails containing Covid case numbers and policy updates in students’ inboxes, students have received three emails in total this year. The online Covid case dashboard has been discontinued, as cases are now self-reported and unpublished.
As of Wednesday, September 20, there were 12 self-reported cases on campus.
“I’m pretty certain that that’s not the full picture,” Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life Katie Toro-Ferrari said in reference to the official number of cases.
Associate Professor of Government and Asian Studies Henry Laurence explained that the lack of transparency about case numbers makes him and many of his colleagues ambivalent about resuming normal campus life.
“It’s really problematic to not have any idea what sort of case numbers there are, because that makes a big difference; if you’re going to go to an indoor meeting, if there’s a lot of cases or no cases that makes a difference to your decision,” Laurence said. “You can’t make an informed decision about risk if you have no idea what the risks are.”
New this year is also the masking protocol in classrooms. While classrooms were mask-optional for a brief period last year, this year’s option puts the choice in the hands of the students, not the faculty. Professors are now not allowed to ask their students to wear masks in class, regardless of personal risk.
According to Associate Dean for Academic Administration Mike Ranen, this decision was ultimately made because of equity. He explained that the College did not think it would be fair if some students had entirely mask-free classes while others had majority-masked schedules, all decided outside of their personal choices.
For Laurence, who has a heart condition that puts him at risk for severe illness if he contracts Covid, this restriction is worrying.
“[Administrators] haven’t, as far as I can tell, made much effort to consult with or reassure or even just talk to the people who don’t fit into their sort of stereotype of ‘you’re young and healthy, and you’ve been vaccinated, you’ll be fine,’” Laurence said.
In the past, Laurence could take his classes outside and into the tents provided by the College to mitigate risk. Now that these tents have been removed, moving outdoors is more complicated.
“They haven’t made it easy to teach outside,” Laurence said. “They’ve really been aggressively pushing back to normal.”
The decrease in communication about Covid dining protocols prompted Thais Carrillo ’23 and Cassidy Bateman ’24 to write emails to the Office of Student Affairs, asking for more consideration for the greater community and immunocompromised students.
For students who tested positive up until today, dining protocol meant grab and go meals from the Polar Express in Moulton Union on weekdays, and waiting in the regular line at Moulton with grab and go containers on weekends.
For students such as Carrillo, this posed a fear of being exposed to and having to share spaces with Covid positive students for unknown amounts of time.
“They really took away my autonomy by doing that,” Carrillo said. “They’re bringing [people] who are Covid positive into a space I need to be in. It’s a really egregious action that does not make any sense.”
Carrillo even considered contacting a disability rights advocate and pursuing legal action.
“I think this is a violation of my rights,” Carrillo said. “They’re implying that the needs of everyone else are greater than mine, basically.”
For Bateman, who has already had Covid and is experiencing long Covid symptoms, it is a serious risk as well.
“None of it made me super happy as someone who is chronically ill,” Bateman said.
Last year, Matthew Duthaler ’25 worked for After-Hours Covid-19 Care Coordinator Luisa Barry-Hershberger handing out meals to Covid positive students. Now that Covid-positive students can enter dining halls and his job no longer exists, Dulather has witnessed a dramatic shift in responses to positive cases on campus.
“It just seems like a lot less attention and care is paid to it,” Dulather said.
“Standing in line and Moulton can take up to 15 minutes or more sometimes to get dinner. And this is all stuff that I expressed to the deans. That’s not minimizing exposure when they’re standing there for 15 to 20 minutes at some point in time,” Bateman said. “You could still be standing next to them for more than 15 minutes without knowing that you are now in close contact.”
Yesterday, the College announced a change to its Covid dining protocol that goes into effect today, addressing Carrillo and Bateman’s concerns.
Starting today, Covid-positive students will be able to pick up all of their meals at the Polar Express in Moulton Union, seven days a week instead of the five days a week that this service previously available. Additionally, there are now specific “low traffic” hours for Covid-positive students to avoid sharing spaces between Covid-positive and negative students.
Ultimately, the College intends to stay the course and remain with its endemic approach to Covid. “We adjust when we need to, and with what’s going on [currently] on campus we are comfortable with our plan,” Ranen said. “If things change, we will change.”