27 COVID-19 Cases Indicates Insufficient Mitigation Strategy

From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been impressed with the swiftness of the College’s COVID-19 response, the comprehensiveness of its layered health strategy, and the innovation it brought to safely welcoming students back to campus. However, as the College now struggles to meet the high standards it set for itself, our faith is waning. 

The College’s strategies were tested this month after 27 positive cases were identified among the campus community between Oct. 21 and Nov. 7. Of these 27 cases, just seven were identified by the College’s own testing; the other 20 were identified by outside testing. Students seeking COVID-19 tests at places like CVS or Rite Aid rather than going through the College is likely a consequence of the College’s limited testing hours; until Nov. 8, the College only offered minimal appointment times on weekdays and no testing at all on weekends. Now, testing has been expanded to seven days a week, but individuals still must be preapproved for an appointment. Ironically, the College has discouraged students from seeking outside testing, as noted in multiple ObieSafe emails, but people have had significant difficulties booking tests at the Student Health Center, with many simply not finding times for multiple consecutive days. 

The College also instituted a puzzling policy for self-quarantining. When a student tests positive for COVID-19, this student can remain in their dorm room along with their healthy roommate. The College offers roommates the choice to move to The Hotel at Oberlin during the duration of their roommate’s illness. However, some students shared experiences where a roommate tested positive over the weekend and Student Health was unable to help them until the following Monday, which resulted in at least one student sleeping in a dorm lounge to avoid exposure. The College asserts that continuing to share a space with a sick roommate likely won’t result in a spread of infection if you’re vaccinated. However, as the Delta variant dominates, breakthrough cases are increasingly a concern. We have no doubt that responding to the sudden 27 cases was a tall order. Contact tracing is a time-consuming process for the College’s team to navigate and we’re grateful for all their hard work. Still, we feel the College set the precedent of going above and beyond to ensure our safety early in the pandemic, and now things seem to be lackluster in comparison. 

The College’s COVID-19 team has consistently stated that we are now at a different stage in the pandemic. With the vaccine and a better grasp on how the virus spreads, the College says we must acknowledge that we are not at as much risk as we were this time last year. For the most part, the College is correct in saying this; we are infinitely better equipped to fight this virus now than three semesters ago. However, that reframing must come along with flexibility as the situation changes. The College is in constant communication with Lorain County Public Health officials, and we’re confident that the College’s team is up to date on the local and national health situation. However, along with the increase in knowledge, there must be a willingness to expend the resources required for effective prevention and safety.

We know it’s a big ask — and a costly one — but this Editorial Board believes that regular, mandatory testing could save us all a lot of grief. We acknowledge the cost and logistical weight of monthly testing for students, but we also believe that it’s a necessary cost. A week from today, students will scatter across the country, visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving, and then they will arrive back on campus with no testing to ensure that they are not bringing COVID-19 back with them. As the College deliberates on how best to facilitate a safe return to campus, they should consider testing students upon their return from major breaks and holidays, especially in light of the ramifications of last year’s Thanksgiving season as a super spreader event. 

Many of the College’s recent COVID-19 safety measures have to do with asking more from students. We are told — though much more gently than in the spring — to wear our masks in our own homes when we have guests over. While it’s true that Obies are generally very conscientious, one only needs to visit a single Long Island Night at the Feve to understand that there is only so much you can reasonably expect students to do after two years of college in a pandemic. Still, Obies are often willing to put in the work. In return, we’d like to see some effort on the College’s part as well. 

Additionally, the College’s communication around COVID-19 used to be more consistent and consolidated; receiving weekly ObieSafe updates was a helpful way to centralize and disseminate information. Updates and data points quietly placed on the ObieSafe website without notification will be read by a small handful of overeager students — and likely, a good portion of this cohort is Review staff members. The College can do — and has done — better in continuing to keep us safe. We’ve been told almost non-stop for the last 20 months that everyone needs to take care of each other. Now, in the spirit of compassion and with a desire for this community to succeed, we ask the College to step up its game.