Open Letter encourages virtual options be made available for students

By Dylan Friedman
Elm Staff Writer

An open letter was sent out via email on Jan. 14, urging students to sign a petition to include virtual education options amid COVID-19 concerns. The Omicron variant is highly infectious, and is spurring worries among some students and prompting them to act.  

According to the email, “to mitigate the spread of this virus and to protect the health and wellbeing of the extended Washington College community, we believe there should be online learning options. Such options reduce the number of students on campus (and, as a result, the size of in-person classes) and will provide peace of mind to those students who are themselves, or have family, especially threatened by this virus.” 

Many individuals signed the petition and are waiting for a response from the faculty on how to address these concerns.  

“It’s totally understandable that…all of our students and faculty are very concerned about safety. That’s been the number one thing we paid attention to in March 2020. So I took the petition very seriously when I saw it…and it really challenges us to make sure that any decision we’re making is keeping safety at the forefront,” Interim Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Michael Harvey said.  

However, senior Asia Perez believes that the current enforcement of the policies tends to worry those most easily at risk.  

“I am immunocompromised; I don’t produce enough white blood cells to fight off most infections, so I tend to get sick very easily…so coming back to campus, where I feel like, although I know they’re doing their best, they have a lot of safeguards in place, I feel as though they are poorly enforced.”

Perez said since other colleges are offering remote options this semester in response to the Omicron variant, she would feel more comfortable coming to campus if WC did the same.

Dr. Harvey said that few students on campus tested positive for Covid-19, making the College an exemplary standout from the county’s average.  

“Out of almost 1,000 students undergoing gateway testing, we had fewer than 20 positive cases,” Dr. Harvey said. “Keep in mind that’s more than 10 times lower than Kent County in terms of the percentage of people that we are testing positive.”

However, students still express concerns regarding policy enforcement and resources.

Some students have expressed their frustration that Health Services’ testing site hours aren’t always reliable for when they need it.  

“If it becomes clear that we aren’t offering enough testing hours for what students need, yes, then I think it’s important for us to look into increasing testing hours,” Dr. Harvey said. “A concerned student could reach out to anybody and say ‘hey, you folks need to do a better job at this.’”  

Perez claims that the enforcement of the mask policy is lax, and greater effort should be put forth to keep the campus sanitary, especially in spaces such as the gym.  

“Mask enforcement—I don’t feel like there was a lot of that,” Perez said. “Considering you can go to the dining hall and you’ll see the same repeat offenders with no mask on, and I don’t believe there are any consequences.” 

According to Dr. Harvey, students should continue to engage with their studies, but are warned not to go to class if symptoms arise.  

“If you feel sick, don’t go to class… if your symptoms are COVID-19-type symptoms then go and get tested,” Dr. Harvey said. “Err on the side of caution… everybody will work with you to make sure you can keep learning.” 

Currently, Perez has not been contacted by the College regarding the open letter and petition, or whether any action will be taken to provide an online option for students. 

For additional questions and concerns regarding current WC COVID-19 safety practices students should reach out to Dr. Harvey via email.

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