By Sophie Foster
Before students returned to campus for the fall 2022 semester, Washington College’s Contingency Planning Group updated the College’s COVID-19 protocol.
In an email sent to students, parents, faculty, and staff on Aug. 12, these protocols were detailed in full, with the disclaimer that the group “will continue to monitor conditions [on] campus and in the local community, and reserves the right to adjust [COVID-19] operations as needed in response to changing conditions.”
Departing from prior policies, surveillance testing will not be taking place this semester, though gateway testing was still required for students to move on campus. Symptomatic testing will remain available between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays going forward.
Presently, it is optional for students to wear masks in both indoor and outdoor settings. However, masks are required for visits to Health or Counseling Services and for anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact as “someone who was within [six] feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from [two] days before illness onset,” according to the WC website.
The College plans to continue maintaining quarantine and isolation dormitory space on campus. According to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, the quarantine and isolation dormitory this semester is Talbot House, located in the Fraternity Quad. There are 24 beds available for students who test positive and are unable to travel home to isolate.
WC’s vaccination policy remains unchanged, meaning that the College continues to require proof of vaccination for preventable diseases, which includes COVID-19. The booster shot is also required. According to the Response Team’s email, “vaccination continues to be the best mitigation strategy to protect against serious illness resulting [from] the [COVID-19] virus.”
The College will endeavor to offer booster shot clinics in conjunction with its flu shot clinics later in the semester for students interested in getting the new booster shot intended to be available this fall.
The CPG will also be monitoring the development of monkeypox cases, but said in the Aug. 12 email that monkeypox is not an airborne illness and is spread only by close personal contact.
According to Dr. Feyerherm, COVID-19 mitigation depends on individual responsibility and “reliance on people to make good decisions that protect themselves and others.” As a congregate setting, WC requires a “heightened standard of care” which the CDC has specific guidelines for.
In addition to CDC guidelines, the CPG considers the suggestions released by the American College Health Association and the local health department, according to Dr. Feyerherm.
At the local level, Kent County’s community transmission rate for COVID-19 is currently high, according to the CDC. According to Dr. Feyerherm, unless conditions on campus decline, the current policies will remain in place.
“While the community level is high, it would be wise to keep gatherings small and outside,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “Ideally, anytime you’re out in the community, you put a mask on.”
According to Dr. Feyerherm, there is a need to remain “friendly” toward masks and students who choose to wear them. “That’s a tool everyone has,” she said. “We hope people will [wear masks] when they think it’s right for them and their community.”
According to President of the College Dr. Mike Sosulski, the CPG — including Dr. Feyerherm — is “meeting on a weekly basis to talk about health issues and safety issues on campus.”
For students who remain worried about the circumstances of the pandemic, President Sosulski described the CPG as a “highly competent group with all the right heads in the room to think through what we need to be safe.”
The CPG will continue to email the campus community with updates regarding shifts in protocol and potential COVID-19 — and monkeypox, should the situation arise — cases on campus. Students who want to monitor virus spread in the community can do so on the College’s COVID-19 dashboard, which can be found at washcoll.edu/coronavirus/dashboard.php.
Photo by Grace Hazlehurst
Photo Caption: COVID-19 testing sign invites students back onto campus at the entrance to the Kirby Stadium testing site.