By Sophie Foster
This academic year is the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that did not begin with mandatory visits to the test center at Roy Kirby Stadium and encouragement to wear masks in public settings. It is also the first that no effort will be made by Washington College to maintain access to tests and KN-95 masks and track positive cases will be made. According to the WC website, the College will no longer require vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, and will also “no longer have designated isolation space and a Covid Care Team available for students,” only recommending that students who test positive return home until recovered or stay inside their dormitories. In light of these recommendations, the heightened spread of illness is highly likely. With no protective infrastructure in place, many students will have no other option but to visit the dining hall or use communal cooking spaces while contagious.
Additionally, the College shared that Health Services’ testing capacity is limited, so students are expected to supply their own COVID-19 tests should they become symptomatic. This expectation is seemingly ignorant to the reality that a single testing package costs $15 at minimum on even the most readily available services, like Amazon.
These non-policies are also oblivious to the strict attendance demands from some professors, rigorous academic standards, and concerns about missing valuable time spent out on campus. In light of these constraints, many students, whether they can afford to buy the multiple necessary tests or not, will elect not to test themselves when symptomatic, placing blame on allergies or mild illness and pushing forward through their day.
Meanwhile, the likelihood of a mask mandate returning in various locations across the nation is increasing as cases rise in both commonality and severity. According to Forbes, “officials in New York City this week reportedly urged residents to wear masks in public as a new strain of [COVID-19] continues to spread throughout the country, while some hospitals and schools have also reimplemented mask mandates.”
Some of the most recent data indicates that more than 15 thousand Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the week of Aug. 14, an increase of nearly 20 percent from even the week prior. It may be easy for those who are yet to contract the virus or, more likely, who dealt with a comparably milder strain, to look past that more than six million Americans have been hospitalized as a result of the illness since it arrived in the United States in 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 11 percent of adults diagnosed with COVID-19 continue to endure long-COVID symptoms post-supposed-recovery, a syndrome not yet well understood due to the short length of time it has been studied. Doctors and scientists are not able to determine at present exactly how likely it is for an individual to contract long-COVID, what specifically the symptoms will manifest as, the duration of said symptoms, or the permanent repercussions of infection. Additionally, according to the New York Times, a late summer wave of COVID-19 predicts heightened spread in the coming fall and winter months. A new dominant variant is spreading quickly nationwide, and reinfection is considered both inevitable and unpredictable in harm to the body.
This far into an all-too-familiar pandemic, for many these statistics are less staggering and more commonplace. However, that does not diminish the individual responsibility we all hold to practice community care.
The reality is that the health-concerned spent the past two years forced to depend on temporary restrictions mandated by institutions to receive basic displays of empathy from their peers. Over two years beyond the first days of quarantine and isolation, systems are reverting back to full functionality, as they always would eventually.
Compassion, now once again merely an option, is something we should be able to expect of our peers. It is not hard to mitigate spread on an individual level, even without an administration lingering above you demanding you do so.
Students, faculty, and staff should consider the impact of their own behavior on those around them, and doing so does not require major lifestyle shifts. When symptomatic, exercise caution, put on a mask, and avoid leaving your dormitory or home unless absolutely, unavoidably necessary. Respect others’ boundaries, and expect them to do the same.
On a campus as insular as ours, the only options are to prioritize our community or to alienate the most vulnerable.
Photo courtesy of Elm Archive
Photo Caption: COVID-19 testing will no longer be as accessible or broadly available to Washington College students.