How Well are Colleges and Their Students Handling the Pandemic?
By: Zoey Abubakr
Photos: Paul Siewert Unsplash, KateTrifo Unsplash, Gomiche Pixabay
“The pandemic has affected everyone, including college students, in many ways. The structure of classes is different, and the whole college “experience” is not the same because of the coronavirus.”
The pandemic has affected everyone, including college students, in many ways. The structure of classes is different, and the whole college “experience” is not the same because of the coronavirus. Even though many colleges stated their guidelines for reopening, it has not been as effective as they hoped. Many students who live on campus have to follow their school policy, which in this case would be Marymount’s “Saints Reunite” plans. Many of these guidelines include changes to class size, reduced dorms, and methods for testing. Multiple colleges and universities have come up with solid and reasonable plans to help with reopening, yet it is not enough and students also have a responsibility.
The Saints Reunite covers a broad range of policies such as general protocol, suspected and confirmed cases, contact tracing protocol, exposure and management procedure, face covering policy, and quarantine protocol. The precautions include wearing a mask, hand washing, avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth, and staying home if someone does experience symptoms. If a student is experiencing symptoms, they should contact the Student Health Services. To help contain the spread of the virus, SHS will perform contact tracing. This will first include identifying the person who is under investigation (PUI) and then interviewing them to talk about isolation, and looking at people who had been in contact with the PUI. Once they have identified close contacts, students will then receive a notification for possible exposure and go into quarantine. When going into quarantine, they will assign a student a room on campus or students will have the option to go to an off-campus residence.
Many places have implemented sanctions for students who do not comply with the guidelines such as social distancing rules and mask policies. Marymount’s consequence depends on how many times the student is non-compliant. Sanctions for a first violation only includes a warning letter and a review meeting with the student conduct. A second violation involves an automatic conduct hearing with formal charges that include both housing and disciplinary probation, as well as increased hours with a mask ambassador. The third sanction can include immediate removal from university housing or even suspension.
These rules are in place to be a motivator for students to not violate them, yet there have still been instances where students did not comply with social distancing guidelines. Anna Song, an associate professor of health psychology at the University of California, has said that the parts of our brain that are in charge of making decisions, in this age group, are still growing. According to Song, “students ages 18 to 21 are essentially wired to make social connections” (Svrluga 3). Even though there are sanctions placed that are meant to reduce impulsive behavior, biologically we are still going to want to make connections and relationships.
While students will want to be together, it is an essential responsibility to not only distance but also have colleges being consistent with their testing. In reality, most students only get tested if they experience symptoms or have exposure to the virus. According to an NPR report, “About two-thirds of full-time undergraduates who attend a college in a hot spot county are on campuses that do not require routine or surveillance tests.” This is also apparent in Marymount’s plan to reopen. Since schools do not have mandatory testing, those who are asymptomatic can easily spread the virus, which can then lead to a mass outbreak. Recently, there was a cluster of outbreaks which prompted the school to call in the Arlington County Public Health Department and the National Guard to test students in its residence halls. The targeted testing was also not mandatory despite the spike in cases in the community. Getting positive cases of the virus is inevitable when it comes to reopening campus, so schools should be equipped to handle a large outbreak if there is one. Marymount was able to get its clusters under control because of the low student population and the attentiveness of the Student Health Services, but that is not the case for every school. When looking at the University of South Carolina as an example, it had reported more than 2,300 cases, which was a 10.5% positivity back in October (Courage 7). In cases like this, schools should have a stronger testing system than just those who are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed.
To accommodate social distancing rules, schools have reduced the number of students in residence halls as well as changed their class size. When on campus housing is closer to capacity, there is more risk of the virus spreading. Many schools have held off dorms for isolation and made their rooms single occupancy. This has been one of the plans that have been shown to be more effective when being compared to others. Aside from the cases at Marymount, looking at another smaller student body population, such as Sarah Lawrence College, “only about 35 percent of the undergraduate student body now lives on campus, down from 84 percent last year.” Every dorm has a single person living in it and they have also held off a portion of their dorms for isolation (Renner 2). The more spread out students can be, the lesser the chance that a massive outbreak can occur because there is limited contact.
Many colleges and universities have tried different approaches to help reduce the chance of an outbreak. Some have been more successful than others, and for the most part, this includes Marymount. With the preventative measures taken during quarantine and its ability to provide rooms for students, they have created a space for those who have been exposed to the virus. Regardless, students who live on campus have to take more precautions especially those who are not voluntarily testing consistently or have been in contact with a lot of people. Schools can continue to do surveillance testing since it is not mandatory, but it should be happening more often. By the time a student has been told they are positive, they could have spread it to multiple people which causes clusters.