As the 2022-2023 school year starts, the College has announced several loosened restrictions and guidelines regarding COVID-19, including the relaxation of mask guidelines and changes to isolation protocols. As campus comes to life again, new and returning students are facing the reality of these new protocols.
Among the changes, students will no longer be required to wear masks in public indoor settings, which had been an on-again, off-again policy throughout the last academic year. Additionally, the College is adopting an “isolation-in-place” approach to students who test positive, meaning they will remain in their housing assignments rather than isolating in special isolation rooms on or off campus. Only in the event of a roommate’s or housemate’s high-risk status will the positive student isolate elsewhere, according to email communication from the President’s Office on July 7, 2022.
Some students expressed disapproval with the isolation-in-place approach in particular. “The new isolation policy is silly,” said Roswell Wendell ʼ24, adding, “We all know people aren’t going to actually isolate if they’re on campus. Their friends are gonna be around, there’ll be stuff to do, they’re not staying in their room the entire time.” He went on, suggesting, “When there’s an inevitable spike in cases ‘cause people aren’t isolating, they’re gonna blame it on the masking and bring it back.”
Dean of College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana ensured that the new protocols are consistent with the most recent guidance from local and state public health agencies, as well as the CDC. He wrote in a statement, “As always, policies will be continually reviewed and updated,” later adding, “People who served on the VassarTogether team, which includes Health Service, Residential Life and other departments, recommended these measures, and the president, in consultation with the senior officers, made the decision to put them in place.”
Many policies students have suggested implementing have yet to come to fruition. Micaela Primer ʼ24 expressed, “Regardless of quarantine location, I think professors should be strongly encouraged to record lectures or have a Zoom class option for students who are in quarantine. It is very difficult to miss 5 to 10 days of classes in quarantine without a remote option.”
She similarly disapproved of the new isolation policies, adding, “I think Vassar should continue to use the hotel for COVID quarantine. I don’t think anyone should be forced to sleep in a small room with a roommate who is sick with COVID.”
Molly Delahunty ’26 shared concerns about isolating-in-place policies. “I don’t really agree with this policy, and I think it is somewhat unfair that one has to live in a room with someone infected instead of other housing, like the hotel, being offered,” she said. “This puts certain students at a higher risk of infection and would impede on responsibilities for athletics, classes, and other organizations.”
While students isolating in place must wear a mask when with a roommate or housemate, they are permitted to go maskless while sleeping and in the bathrooms during specified times for positive students. According to Alamo-Pastrana, students will not be informed if and when a student on their floor tests positive, as a test result falls under Personal Health Information (PHI) and is protected by HIPAA and FERPA.
Delahunty said, “I believe that those infected with COVID-19 should always wear a mask unless doing activities such as showering or brushing their teeth, but it would be impossible to allow this without designated times for those infected to do so. As much as I think this rule can be a bit of an inconvenience, it was really the only way to approach the situation.”
Additionally, as of Aug. 15, 2022, the COVID-19 dashboard is no longer being updated. Alamo-Pastrana said in his statement, “As with other infectious diseases on campus, community health messages regarding COVID-19 will be sent to the campus periodically when Vassar Health Service identifies clustering, atypical transmission patterns or other causes warranting a health alert.”
Delahunty added, “I feel somewhat safe, but the in-dorm isolation situation makes me worried that I still may become infected even after being careful and following my own personal safety routines.”