The College is failing to protect us from COVID. Here is how.

SJ Brusini, Dylan Chan, and Stephanie Teng

Note: We wrote this before Jim Reische sent out his most recent Ops email, which addressed many things we brought up in this op-ed. Our points still reflect the way we feel restrictions could be improved going into this year and going forward, but we’re really glad to hear some of our issues being addressed!

If I had a nickel for every one of my friends who has COVID-19 right now, I’d have about 12 nickels. Which is a lot, and at this point, it’s not weird that it’s happened that many times. The College’s COVID policies are sorely lacking in execution and content, and given the huge outbreak that most of us are intimately familiar with right now, students are hurting from it.

I haven’t seen any of my suitemates in a week because they’re all self-isolating.

Every day classes are a little emptier because someone else has gotten sick, but students have no way of knowing just how widespread the outbreak is — R.I.P. the COVID dashboard. 

Students deserve transparency and openness from the College. The dashboard is an essential tool for students when making informed decisions about masking and attending classes in person. And given that we have the data from the student positive reporting form, it shouldn’t be hard to create a modified dashboard tracking positive cases reported on campus. The College lacks the intention, not the means, to communicate with its students. 

The College’s arrival policies made absolutely no sense. Yes, the College’s guidelines are based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but the College should have known that our situation is unusual enough to require a more nuanced approach.

With two thousand students arriving on campus from such disparate places in such a short time period, it was inevitable that someone would bring COVID to campus. Knowing this, the College’s lack of a mask mandate is not just nonsensical, but actually negligent. “The College knows that masking with a good mask (KN95) is,” according to Jim Reische’s September 13 email, “our best protection.” So why didn’t the College require wearing masks on arrival? 

As much as we hate to say it, an arrival quarantine would be the best way to prevent COVID outbreaks like ours in the future. However, we understand such a quarantine would be wildly unpopular. So instead, we feel that requiring masking for a reasonable length of time — perhaps two weeks after arrival, which would allow the College to better prevent the spread — would be a reasonable compromise.

In addition, the College’s communication of its policies is uninspiring and unclear. If there is one thing that students falling ill from COVID needs, it is the knowledge of what comes next. Yet, both the COVID policy website and Campus Operations emails provide students with the form for reporting positive tests, but not with further instructions for what to do afterwards. This lack of transparent communication is confusing, and it is certainly not what COVID-positive students need as they report their results to the College. 

If the College demands honesty and transparency from the student body with regard to community health, then it should at least exhibit the same level of honesty and transparency in telling its students what those community health guidelines entail in practice. The information inequality established by the College is unjustified and unnecessary: What good has keeping isolation policies away from public eyes achieved, and does it justify the ethical cost of keeping students informed? 

The spread of this outbreak has been bad, but what we find truly disappointing is the way the College has handled it. This week alone, students have been running into issues because the College’s supply of rapid tests and isolation kits has proved wildly insufficient.

After the stressful experience of a positive test and the physical burden of having COVID, students shouldn’t have to worry about whether they will be taken care of by an institution they’ve placed their trust in. The College’s lack of guidance is especially harmful to at-risk students on campus, since they are the ones with the most to lose if they get sick. College is hard enough as it is. Let’s not make it harder by failing to keep all students safe.

When the College falls short on its policies, we bear the burden. A positive COVID test means falling behind in class and life. The College offers little pragmatic and moral support when it comes to supporting students who have tested positive for COVID. 

Despite offering an email with isolation information and instructions for sick students, the College fails to reassure students at their most insecure moments. Though it acknowledges that “[students are] likely feeling stress right now” and seeks to “reduce some of that stress,” it fails to address key academic and residential stressors for students. 

What these instructions neglect is the onerous duty on COVID-positive students to email each of their professors individually, seek academic accommodations, miss auditions and campus events, and make up for lost work — all while they’re sick. 

Further, professors respond in drastically different ways when they are asked to provide accommodation. As students often test positive the same day they have a class, students are required to find their own notetakers on extremely short notice. Even in my organizational meetings, some of my professors didn’t mention plans if students had to miss class. This made me reluctant to stay home when I was contact-traced, since I had no idea how to make up anything I missed.

We must ask the College how it failed to prepare instructors for situations in which their students fall ill when such situations are so foreseeable. To be clear, we don’t blame this lack of guidance and academic leadership on individual professors; these organizational responsibilities belong solely to the College administration. To fix this in future semesters, the College should require professors to actively support COVID-positive students and include them in classes to the extent they feel comfortable with.

We’re not calling for the College to prepare full-scale remote academic options — no one wants a return to 2020. Yet, the current reality is that students are falling ill, and those students who isolate and protect the community deserve academic support and clear communication from the College. 

Please let me see my suitemates again.


SJ Brusini ’23 is a geosciences and biology major from R.I. Dylan Chan ’23 is a computer science major from Kansas City, Mo. Stephanie Teng ’23 is a political science and psychology major from St. Louis, Mo.