Students returned to campus this week with enhanced COVID-19 safety restrictions, including required masking in all indoor and outdoor public spaces and no indoor dining. The College will reassess these protocols on Oct. 18.
Campus Health Coordinator Katie Gravens explained that the College was able to observe how COVID-19 impacted students at other schools around the country by delaying its start until October. These observations influenced the administration’s decision to tighten its restrictions.
“We were seeing these outbreaks and these large numbers [of infections],” Gravens said. “Schools were then scrambling, and so in the ninth hour we said, ‘Let’s test everyone on arrival, let’s switch to grab- and-go meals, and let’s ask everyone to please wear their mask outside.’”
At the same time, Gravens indicated that these restrictions — particularly the outdoor mask mandate — are also about setting a precedent that enables Oberlin to distinguish itself from the rest of Ohio.
“It’s a reminder that masks truly are important, because, quite honestly, the state of Ohio does a terrible job with masking,” Gravens said.
For Lorain County Health Commissioner Dave Covell, the presence of these mandates reflects the importance of a layered health strategy, but the most effective defense against COVID-19 is vaccination.
For some students, the College’s outdoor mask mandate was particularly irritating given the high rate of vaccination on campus and the scientific data pointing to reduced transmission in outdoor settings.
“I feel the approach of exceeding the CDC guidelines on a highly vaccinated campus is frustrating,” said double-degree second-year Oscar Duffield. “Breakthrough cases are extremely rare and usually mild. I think the statistical insignificance of breakthrough cases doesn’t warrant such restrictive policies, especially masking outside, which according to the science is not particularly effective. Regardless, I intend to comply with the policies.”
For Conservatory fourth-year Ohad Nativ, who lives off-campus, the sweeping nature of the College’s outdoor mask mandate created confusion.
“An outdoor mask mandate is a little superfluous,” Nativ said. “For one, how does the College define what is considered on- and off-campus? As an off- campus student, how am I to know when exactly I enter and exit the boundaries of the College? I would have preferred if the outdoor mask mandate had been more specific and applied to only groups.”
For other students, the lack of indoor dining options is disappointing, but the temporary nature of the guidelines gives them hope.
“It especially sucks to have to eat outside or alone in our rooms, mostly because it doesn’t build a community,” said College second-year Aidan Duffield and twin of Oscar Duffield. “However, I’m fine with how it is right now because I can look forward to lifted restrictions in the future.”