By Megan Loock
Elm Staff Writer
On Oct. 16, 2020, the Washington College Response Team announced via email that they would have the capability to house anyone who wished to return to campus for the spring semester.
As a student who has dreamt of moving back to WC since it shut down last March, the chance to return to campus came as a relief to me. The health statutes installed, such as social distancing and a mask mandate, are just as reassuring.
As of Feb. 4, there are 26.5 million+ new reported cases of COVID-19 — a number that has decreased by 30% as of Feb. 4, according to the New York Times.
The debate about bringing students back onto campus is fueled by the social culture that completes the normal college experience. Whether it’s going downtown on the weekends, driving to Middletown for the day, or spending Saturday morning at the farmers market, the WC community relies heavily on social opportunities that pose a great risk for contracting COVID-19.
It is valid to be skeptical of the school’s ability to monitor so many potential risks, but thus far, WC is doing a great job.
As President of the Student Government Association, senior Elizabeth Lilly has been serving on the WC’s contingency planning board since it was established last March. Lilly provides an essential student perspective as the board makes decisions surrounding students’ return to campus.
“I’m hopeful that people will remember that just getting two negative tests at the beginning is not the greenlight for the entire semester,” Lilly said.
When I asked students how they felt about returning to campus this spring, the response I received was mixed.
“[I’m] staying home, I don’t trust the plan, and COVID-19 is only going to get worse in the winter,” senior Mahin Zaman said.
“I am returning to campus next semester. Home life is tough with four people all on the same DSL wifi connection, so it’s definitely going to be nice to have a private space of my own with reliable wifi. I’ve also just missed seeing my friends in person. Even if we are six feet apart, it’ll be so much nicer than a computer screen,” senior Will Hewitt said.
Over the past few months, according to Lilly, the school has worked closely with schools that are similar in size to coordinate the safest plan to bring students back.
In order to live on campus, students must be tested every two weeks for the semester, along with daily self-surveillance of symptoms and documenting them via the Emocha app, according to the school’s COVID-19 guidebook.
“The idea to test every other week came from other successful schools that are similar to our size of campus and layout,” Lilly said, “we [the Contingency Planning Board] took those ideas from schools that were successful in the Fall and kind of heightened a little bit.”
In order to keep on-campus cases of COVID-19 separate from residents of Chestertown, two dorm buildings have been designated for students in isolation and quarantine. Corsica Hall is designated for students who test positive, while Kent House is designated for those who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. Both halls are equipped with 24/7 medical care, according to the school’s Isolation and Quarantine Planning Guide.
“I think that with waiting to bring us back until the spring semester, WAC was able to learn a lot from seeing those schools who brought back students and what they did well or not so well,” said senior and Resident Assistant Nicolina Capitanio.
Lilly stated that even students who are living off-campus in Chestertown are required to follow the same testing protocols and maintain daily usage of the Emocha app in order to access campus services. The “campus bubble,” as Lilly put it, is still kept under surveillance.
“I do worry a bit, but I’m hopeful that with everyone being home for so long and knowing what would happen if they do get out of control (campus closing again), it will make them rethink their choices about partying or having a lot of people over, etc.,” Capitanio said.
While it is only the first two weeks back to campus for some students, it nevertheless is nice to bring some normalcy and life back to the WC Community. But this experience still relies heavily on the responsibility of the students.
If we want to stay on campus for the entire semester, we cannot do the bare minimum when it comes to safety. This means reminding our friends to wear a mask, social distancing, setting reminders on your phone to take your temperature, etc. The school can only provide the resources for a safe experience — we have to use them appropriately and effectively.
Featured Photo caption: Students living on campus are required to undergo COVID-19 testing administered at Kirby Stadium once every two weeks in order to remain living on campus. Photo by Marah Vain-Callahan.