By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger on the Washington College campus amid the first few weeks of the 2022 spring semester.
According to the WC COVID-19 Dashboard, during the week of Jan. 31, a total of 37 positive COVID-19 test results were reported, all of them from students. The following week, on Feb. 7, that total dropped to six positive COVID-19 tests.
“It was scary at first, since we went from zero cases to around 30,” Peer Mentor and junior Jastin Garcia-Mendoza said. “[But I thought] the College did a decent job in informing us about the case spike…[but] there is always room for improvement.”
“I’d call it a short surge,” Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm said. “We always worry but this appears to have subsided quickly as well, so that is good news.”
According to Dr. Feyerherm, the campus alert level remained green throughout the outbreak because, “despite the short uptick in cases, all of our other mitigation strategies kept [many individuals] from having to take more drastic action associated with the higher alert levels.”
“I think the COVID-19 pandemic impacts social life in that it’s always in the back of everyone’s head that they may have to adjust an event on the fly if there is another surge, but generally it’s a good checking mechanism to make sure we don’t forget that this virus remains highly transmissible,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
While the number of positive COVID-19 cases has “significantly gone down” since Feb. 4, according to the Feb. 11 CPG email, additional steps were taken to ensure the safety of the WC student body.
This included the Student Events Board postponing their in-person events and announcing that the Birthday Ball will be held on April 23 from 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. in Martha Washington Square instead of in February.
According to Director of Student Engagement Antoine Jordan ’12, if COVID-19 cases continue to rise on campus, SEB events will continue to be canceled, moved virtually, or pushed to a later date as a means of preventing further infections.
“Since the case count on campus continues to decrease, I’m hoping that all events will resume in person and [the COVID-19 pandemic] won’t play too large of an impact,” Jordan said.
As these changes continue to be made on campus, many students have expressed their thoughts on how the College has handled the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
“Even with more than 30 cases on campus, that is just a fraction of the total student body, which I believe speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols and policies in place here on campus,” Student Government Association Secretary of Academics and senior Kyle Rufo said. “[However,] I believe one way students could be supported more is to have ample mask supplies in some academic and administrative campus buildings for access to all.”
Rufo said that masking is fundamental to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and “free, proper masks can go a long way in the fight to decrease cases on campus.”
Other students, including freshman Camiya Johnson, feel that, in addition to improved communication between the College and the campus community, there should be further consideration and accommodations made for those who are unable to come to class.
“If COVID-19 cases rise too high, we have to go virtual…and go home,” Johnson said. “[There’s also many] people on campus who have immune system problems that just don’t feel safe to be here at all, and I feel that, if WC doesn’t want to take the extra steps, then maybe we should start advocating for virtual classes.”
For WC Wellness Advocacy Coach senior Austen Markus, they were “not positive” about the College’s response, especially after one of their friends became infected with COVID-19.
“I was not surprised to see it start happening, but [I was] definitely a little disappointed because I feel like the College could have done more to prevent that than they did,” Markus said. “I think just the overall feeling I had, and I think looking at a lot of other people was just kind of frustrating, because it felt like it was being treated as though it was inevitable, which it very obviously wasn’t.”
At the height of cases on campus, the CPG reported housing 16 students in isolation housing in Corsica Hall while another three students were quarantined in Reid Hall on Feb. 4.
According to the WC COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Feb. 14, three of the 19 total rooms for isolation housing in Corsica Hall are in use, while 2 of the 25 available quarantine rooms are in use.
Additionally, as of Feb. 14, the College continues requiring students, staff, and faculty to wear masks in all public areas. According to the guidelines, KN95 or N95 masks — or a double-layered cloth mask with a one-time-use paper surgical mask underneath — are preferred.
According to Garcia-Mendoza, allowing students to have more than one KN95 or N95 masks can help prevent the number of infections on campus.
“I also feel like the school could have provided more KN-95 masks,” Garcia-Mendoza said. “Giving one [each] to the student body just isn’t enough. We can’t continuously reuse the same mask for the whole semester.”
Garcia-Mendoza, Johnson, and Markus all also noted that virtual and hybrid classes should be an option.
“[Both WC] and professors should try to have a way to set up a hybrid classroom environment, so those students do not suffer by being far behind their peers,” Garcia-Mendoza said.
As the weeks pass, many individuals have said they hope this rise will pass, while others express that continuing to practice enforced safety measures will continue to go a long way.
“I’m hoping that the recent outbreak is more of a bump in the road than a total roadblock,” Jordan said. “Due to the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 — especially with the spread of the Omicron variant — the pandemic has once again kept us on our toes. I’m hopeful that, as cases continue to subside regionally and nationally, the impact and fear of an outbreak on campus will diminish as well, which should not have a massive impact on events [and] student life on campus as we move through the semester.”
“[While the COVID-19 pandemic] isn’t going anywhere…[we should] not be afraid of COVID-19, but also not dismiss it,” Johnson said.
Photo by Olivia Dorsey
Featured Photo Caption: As COVID-19 positive cases rise on campus, the Washington College 2022 spring semester guidelines continue to place students in required housing for isolation and quarantine depending on one’s vaccination status, such as Corsica Hall (above).