Campus continues to stress COVID-19 safety protocols

By MacKenzie MacDonald
Elm Staff Writer

As the semester goes on, Washington College also continues to send reminders concerning the COVID-19 safety protocols enforced across campus. 

According to the College website’s COVID-19 information page, all College students, staff, and faculty members must wear masks or other face coverings while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. This includes classrooms, Clifton Miller Library, Casey Academic Center, Johnson Fitness Center, and other public areas.

Masks are not required in dorm rooms or suites, alone in a private office, or for student athletes playing under the guidance of their coach. However, it is strongly recommended that students wear masks in their residence halls when they are in shared spaces where they could potentially be close to others. 

While outside, vaccinated individuals do not have to wear a mask, but it is recommended that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks, especially when social distancing is not possible.

“I feel like most students are respectful of others’ safety and well-being and endure the uncomfortable masks as a necessary behavior,” senior and SGA Secretary of Academics Kyle Rufo said. “Then there are other students who do not seem to understand the seriousness of the pandemic and why wearing a mask is important. To them, I say please wear a mask. No one likes them, but it is something we need to do to protect ourselves and our campus community.”

According to Rufo, the College does help to supply masks as requested, but he feels that students may not know where to go or who to ask. 

“Toll Science Center and Dunning Laboratory have many masks — please ask one of the friendly faculty members who has an office in that building to show you where they are,” he said. “The library also has masks available for students.” 

“All faculty will help students find masks, either getting them one themselves or by putting the student in contact with someone who does know where masks can be found, and if students feel that mask availability on campus is lacking, we as an SGA can work together to make sure more masks are available,”  he said.

According to Associate Professor of English Dr. Courtney Rydel, all faculty in Smith Hall were given a supply of five cloth masks that they must hand out to students who forget their mask. She also always keeps extra masks with her and recommends that students do the same. 

“The couple of times I’ve seen students not having well-fitting masks, I’ve had spares on me that I could provide to them,” she said.

While many students have expressed how uncomfortable masks can be, Dr. Rydel said that students can get an “ear-saver,” a mask extender, or release strap designed to relieve the strain of wearing a mask.

According to Dr. Rydel, ear-savers can come in many different forms, but once you attach your mask, the ear-saver sits on the back of your head, which keeps the mask very tight and off your ears. 

“[Ear-savers] make it way easier to tolerate wearing a mask,” she said.

Dr. Rydel also said her experiences with students abiding by the policy only further emphasized the importance of continuing to wear masks during a still-ongoing pandemic.

“[While] I have not had any problems, [as] my students wear masks and wore them correctly, I’ve been very vocal about how important that is,” she said. “I have stopped students, I have handed them masks, I have yelled at students, which I don’t like to do.”

According to both Rufo and Interim Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Greg Krikorian, any failure to abide by COVID-19 guidelines repeatedly and deliberately will result in sanctions handled by the Honor Board.

“The mask policy for academic buildings is a campus-wide and enforced policy and will result in a violation if students repeatedly do not comply — as with any other campus policy,” Rufo said.

“[Repercussions] are handled in accordance with the Honor Code and can be adjudicated either administratively or through the Honor Board,” Krikorian said.

According to Krikorian, the severity of punishment is based on a system of accountability and responsibility. The Student Handbook, which can be found on the College’s website, details all potential sanctions for violations of College policy.

According to the student handbook, if students are persistently ignoring these policies, they will be issued an official warning that will remain in effect for the entirety of the semester in which it is given.

 If another violation occurs during this time, it can result in a conduct review with the Honor Board and can potentially result in more serious sanctions. This can include fines or probation from College activities. 

“To date, we have not had any major issues this semester,” Krikorian said. “In the most significant situations, we could have limitations [and] restrictions placed on a student’s access to campus.” 

According to Dr. Rydel, forgetting a mask, or forgetting to put one on, will not result in sanctions, it is only the persistent offenders of the COVID-19 policies that will be subject to punishment.

Other policies that will continue to be in place include the College’s prohibiting overnight guests — particularly “anyone who currently doesn’t live on campus”— with any prospective student required to show proof of vaccination, according to the WC Contingency Planning Group campus-wide email sent on Oct. 13.

This policy, according to the email, is “unlikely” to change, as the College “anticipate a change in conditions that will allow for this, especially given the administrative requirements around managing vaccine documentation and contact notification in the event of a positive case.” Discussions to make overnight guests an option will resume during the spring semester.

Photo by Lorna Cummings

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