College Maintains COVID-19 Caution, City Schools Go Mask-Optional


Khadijah Halliday

Revised COVID-19 guidelines require that students continue to wear masks in indoor spaces such as Mudd Center.

The College and the Oberlin City Schools district both announced the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols this past week. In a Tuesday ObieSafe email, the College stated that on March 7, all campus dining locations will expand from exclusively grab-and-go options to a hybrid model that includes in- person dining with social distancing. The ObieSafe email also announced the hiring of Terri Buzzell, who has joined the College as a medical consultant. On Thursday, Oberlin City Schools stated that it would move to Mask-Optional status for all students and staff, effective on March 7.

These latest announcements follow the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 standards that were issued last week. The updated CDC standards suggest that people living in lower-risk areas can now stop wearing masks, and no longer need to social distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces. Roughly 70 percent of U.S. residents, — including those in Lorain County — live in these lower-risk areas.

While OCS has removed the indoor mask mandate in pre-K–12 classrooms and in district transportation, the College has taken a more cautious approach. It plans to maintain the indoor mask mandate and slowly relax COVID-19 protocols as they follow up with students, faculty, and staff who have not received or reported their booster vaccine or their spring return testing. Currently, 72 percent of students have submitted proof of their booster shot.

According to Chief of Staff David Hertz, the College’s changes were made based on relevant data, the updated CDC guidelines, and input from local public health experts.

“Those sources indicate that a gradual adjustment to our policies is prudent,” Hertz wrote in an email to the Review. “Arrival testing was required at the beginning of the semester unless an exemption was granted. Boosters are required of everyone eligible to receive one. Once we compile all testing and booster data on campus, we will consider the state of COVID in the region before making other adjustments.”

The College’s restrained updates surprised College fourth-year Abby Kantt. She expressed cynicism with the College’s past response, referring to the Dec. 19 spike in cases and the student body’s unconcerned commitment to current protocols.

“I kind of gave up on the administration setting comprehensive guidelines, but I’ve been really frustrated and disappointed with what I’ve been seeing happening with students this semester,” Kantt wrote in a message to the Review. “The vaccine has been extremely helpful and I’m grateful that most people in Oberlin have gotten it, but COVID still makes people seriously ill and is still killing people! Especially immunocompromised people.”

In contrast to the College’s caution, the Oberlin City Schools district has decided to closely follow the updated CDC and Lorain County Public Health Department guidelines. OCS Superintendent David Hall referred to Lorain County’s currently low level of COVID-19 in the Thursday press release that detailed the new masking status.

“On Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, the CDC and Lorain County Public Health Department updated their COVID-19 guidelines, and are no longer recommending universal masking of students in grades K–12 in school atmospheres with low or medium COVID-19 community levels,” Hall wrote. “The Lorain County community level is rated ‘low.’ … Therefore, Oberlin City School District will no longer require masks for students in pre-K–12 classrooms or on district transportation effective Monday, March 7, 2022. Oberlin City School District will move to a Mask Optional Status for all students and staff.”

However, the College is choosing to follow the path of caution — even hiring a new health consultant to help with the College’s COVID-19 approach. Shortly after a relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and the announcement of former COVID-19 Campus Health Coordinator Katie Gravens’ retirement at the end of December, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases on Dec. 19. This spike prompted the College to impose stricter COVID-19 protocols for the remainder of the fall semester.

According to Hertz, Terri Buzzell has ample expertise and knowledge of the College’s current protocols and will be able to address student concerns about COVID-19 safety. Buzzell is a registered nurse and holds a Master of Healthcare Administration degree and a Master of Science in Nursing degree. She is the current Director of Nursing Operations at Harness Health Partners, where she leads various clinical and administrative teams that serve the needs of patients throughout Bon Secours Mercy Health’s domain.

“I am excited about joining the ObieSafe team,” Buzzell stated in the ObieSafe email. “I am a firm believer that health and wellness are vital for successful academics. I look forward to serving Oberlin College by helping to keep the Oberlin community safe and healthy.”