In my article last week, “Current COVID-19 campus guidelines are contradictory,” I argued that Vassar’s current COVID-19 guidelines are inconsistent and illogical. According to President Bradley’s Aug. 19 email, the administration plans to reconsider them during the week of Sept. 13; therefore, it now seems worthwhile to evaluate our current situation and how we ought to proceed. In doing so, with the continued nationwide and local proliferation of the Delta variant, I come to the conclusion that we must continue to wear masks, and we should not be returning to normal, pre-pandemic behavior.
The College anticipated that upon students’ return to campus, there would be several positive cases despite over 99 percent of the student body having received a COVID-19 vaccine. The expectation was that those cases would result from exposure at home or while traveling and not from interactions on campus. For instance, during the Fall 2020 semester, the number of cases on campus peaked on Aug. 30, with 14 active cases. Within two weeks, that number dropped to zero due to the College’s isolation from the surrounding community. It was simply a matter of isolating those positive cases and waiting for them to run their course (Vassar College, “COVID-19 Dashboard (Fall 2021),” 09.13.2021).
In contrast, as of Sept. 13, the time of writing, the number of active cases on campus is 14. And that number has consistently climbed over the past week. At this same time last year, we had one case. Yes, there are more people on campus this year, but the trend of cases stands regardless of that fact; last year at this time the case count had already peaked as people were moving in and then quickly declined, yet this semester it continues to rise. This is not what most people on campus want to hear—and trust me, it is not what I want to believe—but masks are not yet irrelevant. The pandemic is not over and we cannot continue to act as if it is. We are not dealing with the same COVID-19 as last year, and therefore, we are not dealing with similar risk levels. The Delta variant is very much present, and Dutchess County is currently a very high-risk area (New York Times, “Tracking Coronavirus in Dutchess County, N.Y.,” 09.13.2021). I’m not saying that we need to return to the campus climate that we lived in at this time last year, but I am saying that we are not ready to loosen up restrictions from where they are now. In fact, consistent with the sentiment in my previous article, I do not believe we should be dining at full capacity in the Deece, or indoors at Express and the Retreat for that matter.
The current guidelines place the burden of caution and angst on those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. Those most at risk are forced to live in constant fear of the repercussions of their peers’ behavior. I visited Baldwin this week, a place where feeling safe is most essential, and saw someone waltz right through the doors and tell the receptionist they were experiencing symptoms. The current guidelines have bred a cavalier campus environment in which someone feels comfortable walking into a populated and sanitary place even with symptoms. We should be more conscious of how our actions can directly affect vulnerable members of our community. I personally do not want to participate in creating a campus environment where the most at-risk people must bear the burden of fear while the rest of us live as we please.
The current guidelines have already enabled an increase in active cases on campus. Now is not the time to loosenCOVID-19 protocols. No matter how much we want to pretend the pandemic is over, we must stay vigilant and remember that it remains extra serious for members of our community with pre-existing conditions. We cannot proceed with our behavior on campus, acting as if we are not living through a pandemic, when our surrounding region, from which we are not isolated anymore, is still very much in the red and cases on campus are surpassing last year’s levels. Mask up around others, stay aware of the risks of indoor dining, and keep in mind that while you may have overcome your “COVID anxiety,” for your classmate next to you or your professor, it may only be getting worse.