By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
As Washington College enters the third calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students, staff, and faculty members are striving to navigate a still-uncertain time, while ensuring that the campus community remains safe during the spring 2022 semester.
According to an email sent by the WC Office of Student Affairs on Jan. 25, a total of 16 positive cases were reported among the student body from Jan. 17 to Jan. 23 out of over 900 completed gateway tests, with an additional four cases among staff. Five students are currently living in on-campus isolation housing, as of Jan. 25.
While “expert knowledge and guidance from the medical community and the power of the [COVID-19] vaccine” was made readily available within the past several months, according to the Spring 2022 COVID-19 guidelines, the College will continue to communicate and update the campus regarding current policies and safety protocols for the semester.
“We have a different approach now, because we have a different toolkit available to us than we did when the [COVID-19] pandemic was new to us,” President of the College Dr. Mike Sosulski said. “We know that masking works [and] we know that vaccination works…[and] so really, the conversation is about how we can preserve what’s really unique and best about a liberal arts education, while really taking good care of our own health on campus and others in our surrounding community.”
Alongside implementing new updated protocols, the College aims to further emphasize the importance of pre-existing practices, including mask wearing and social distancing.
“We did see at the end of the semester especially, people got really relaxed [about indoor masking], so we’ve had a renewed enforcement around that,” Vice President of Student Affairs Sarah Feyerherm said.
According to the guidelines, “everyone — regardless of vaccination status — must wear a mask indoors at all times,” including all public spaces such as classrooms, labs, and shared spaces in residence halls; “any indoor athletic events; and when socializing indoors.” KN95 or N95 masks are preferred, but, in the event these masks are unavailable, students can wear a double-layered cloth mask with a one-time-use paper surgical mask underneath.
Mask removal is only permitted when students are actively eating or drinking, and not required when students are in their own private rooms or offices, when practicing or playing under the supervision of an athletic coach, or during activities in which all participants are compliant “with a testing and eligibility plan,” according to the guidelines.
Those on campus with approved vaccine exemptions must also undergo weekly surveillance testing beginning Jan. 31, according to a campus-wide email from the College Contingency Planning Group on Jan. 28. Additionally, Health Services will reach out to students that are six months or more past their initial vaccination date, or who have not yet uploaded their booster shot information onto the Student Health Portal to schedule for weekly COVID-19 testing appointments.
For those wishing to schedule a COVID-19 test, students can do so on the Health Portal at washcoll.studenthealthportal.com. All COVID-19 tests will take place at the test site at Kirby Stadium.
According to Feyerherm, students have one more week to submit their COVID-19 booster vaccination information before they are considered not fully vaccinated and must abide by those different protocols. If exposed, they must be signed up for surveillance testing and quarantine for a longer period of time.
Any vaccinated individual who tests positive and is currently experiencing mild to no symptoms is required to isolate for five days and then schedule a retest on the sixth day. According to the CPG email, all tests and retests will be rapid antigen — which “look[s] for the presence of proteins on the surface of the [COVID-19] virus” — which is specific to “when someone is still infectious and will only return a positive result when the person has a high viral load in their nose and throat.”
Symptomatic students will be allowed to isolate themselves in their own dorm rooms and can visit the dining hall twice per day to pick up their meals. However, if a fully vaccinated student’s symptoms remain moderate or are not resolved in five days, they are required to stay isolated for an additional 10 days, according to the guidelines. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate for 10 days in the campus’ isolated housing, “regardless of the severity of symptoms.” All individuals who recover then must “remain masked at all times indoors for a total of 14 days, counting from the date of the positive test,” according to the guidelines.
For those who do not comply with these and other guidelines, Dean Feyerherm said that Interim Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Greg Krikorian “will utilize the student conduct system.”
Additional updates can be found on the COVID-19 section of the College website and through emails sent by the CPG.
Photo by Jakob Watt
Featured Photo Caption: As the 2022 spring semester unfolds, Washington College will continue enforcing and updating pre-existing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as wearing N95 or KN95 masks in public spaces.