Mindset change needed in age of COVID-19

Maryam Bacchus/The Miscellany News.

The last several years of COVID-19 have been peppered with the phrase “when things go back to normal.” When things go back to normal, we’ll be able to go to concerts again, we’ll be able to hug our friends without worry and we won’t have to wear masks again in class. We soothed ourselves with the idea that the pandemic was temporary, and the fatigue it brought would fade with a good time and some rest. Over three years later, with people still testing positive, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new definition of normal. Maybe there’s a lesson in community care that we should be taking from the pandemic and carrying into the new year. That brings me to a question I’ve had since the start of the semester: How is Vassar handling COVID-19 now, and how can we be better as a community?


To address how Vassar is managing COVID on campus, I spoke with two students, who wished to remain anonymous, who tested positive for COVID-19 this past week. They happened to be roommates, so when the first student tested positive, her first concern was for her roommate. She called Health Service, but because it was right at the end of the business day, she was only able to speak to an on-call triage nurse in Massachusetts. While the nurse was kind, she wasn’t incredibly helpful, as a large portion of her information for Vassar was outdated. She believed Vassar was still placing students in hotel rooms and not letting them recover in the dorms. Because her roommate isn’t immunocompromised, the nurse informed her that it was safe to remain in her room. However, it didn’t matter much, as her roommate tested positive later that night. The second student wasn’t able to speak to anyone in Health Service until the next morning. They spent most of the morning on the phone with various offices trying to get added to the list of ill students so that they would be able to pick up food from the dining hall using a container pass. Both said they felt the initial reporting was the most difficult part—that while they knew to call Health Service, Vassar didn’t provide them enough resources to ensure the process went smoothly. Students who test positive are required to isolate themselves for five days and mask in classes and common spaces for an additional five days, according to Health Service. 


The isolation process seems to be relatively simple, yet marked with pitfalls. How can we improve it? One simple solution is for Vassar to add a checklist to the Health Service web page of the steps that students in isolation need to take. It’s an easy solution that requires little from the administration and would provide constant access to concrete instructions for the student body. I know we all got the emails—I also know those emails likely got buried or deleted amongst all the other emails we receive.


Additionally, I believe that we need to be providing more access to booster shots. The CDC recommends an updated booster six months after the last shot is received. If we are encouraged to get the flu shot every year, then maybe it’s time to start promoting the COVID-19 booster in the same light. Health Service offered a COVID-19/flu shot clinic with Acme Pharmacy on Dec. 6 and 7; continuing to hold similar events twice a semester could ensure that students get vaccinated, which could help to reduce illness on our campus overall. Partnering with a local clinic would also address concerns with access, as not all students have transportation to clinics, and the weather can be at its most obnoxious during cold and flu season.


Finally, we need to continue to encourage students, faculty and staff to wear masks when they feel ill, and provide accessible time off and care when it is needed. The burden of health safety prior to the pandemic was always placed on immunocompromised students, faculty and staff. We, as a community, came together to protect each other, and we should continue to do so. A sniffle can be deadly, and even those of us with healthy immune systems have at-risk people at home. Now, in the confines of our collegiate community, is our opportunity to reshape how we view illness so that when we transition to the job market, we can carry that change with us, like little vaccines of kindness to a society in need. Stay safe and stay well.

One Comment

  1. 1. The isolation checklist is a good idea, and should include a window fan to have the isolation room at negative air pressure, so virus is blown out the window, since the disease is spread through the air. … A roommate should never remain in the isolation room.
    2. Staying away only five days will send a high percentage of people back into circulation while they are still contagious. (Masks cut transmission only by roughly half.) The correct measure is to wait till you have a negative antigen test before ending the isolation.
    3. If you want to have a gathering with zero risk of transmission, all you have to do is have everyone do an antigen test ahead of time, and get a negative result. Negative result = not contagious.

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