Staff Editorial: Students Can't Stay COVID Safe Alone

Staff Editorial: Students Can’t Stay COVID Safe Alone

From the dark days of the University’s closed campus to the full return of in-person learning last semester, GW’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic through isolation, testing and masking has changed at over the past two years. But the University’s COVID policy is radically different from where it began. In the absence of official policy, students are weathering the pandemic on spare couches and mattresses while roommates self-isolate, and immunocompromised students feel neglected on a campus that doesn’t enforce mask-wearing or n does not require testing. GW abdicated responsibility in favor of an individualistic approach that left students to manage a public health crisis on their own.

GW began rolling back its COVID policy this summer, moving to voluntary asymptomatic testing in July and instituting “isolation in place” in August. And in September, officials announced that GW would make masks optional, except in educational institutions, healthcare facilities and on college transportation. These willful, contradictory and ill-informed policies have effectively left students without a coordinated plan from officials tasked with charting GW’s response to the pandemic and protecting their own health.

The University’s decision to place us, voluntarily or not, in charge of our own health could not be clearer than with the end of solitary confinement. Instead of sending students who test positive for COVID to another room in a dorm or off-campus hotel, GW’s isolation-in-place policy has sent students with sick roommates scrambling to find accommodation on their own. For those who can’t crash on a peer’s couch or afford to book an expensive hotel room on such short notice, GW recommends that they simply stay as far away from their roommates as possible. And if GW’s isolation advice comes down to a nonchalant shrug, the reasoning behind the change is even more questionable — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that GW cites publicly covers K- 12, not colleges.

Maura Kelly-Yuoh | Staff draftsman

The advice GW offers on masking is just as illogical as his reasoning behind isolation housing. N95 masks are the best way to protect yourself and others, and yet they’re optional — but highly recommended. GW’s recent optional mask policy isn’t unprecedented, though not generally successful. The University lifted its mask mandate in June 2021 for those vaccinated but reimposed it a month later. And a similar story unfolded in April of this year – authorities ended the mask mandate in all settings except healthcare settings, but reinstated it just over a year ago. week later after an increase in cases. What reason is there to believe that the University will no longer turn around?

And the shift to voluntary testing has made tracking COVID on campus all the more difficult. With fewer asymptomatic individuals being tested, we don’t have an accurate picture of the GW positivity rate – the GW positivity rate was 0.2% compared to a citywide rate of around 2% in September 2021. Last month, GW’s positivity rate was nearly 5.5% – a nearly 27-fold increase – while DC’s positivity jumped from a smaller range to around six percent.

There is no doubt that students are divided over University advice, and this is not the first time that a change in GW’s COVID policies has led to a mixture of celebration and dismay among students. . But the recall of isolation housing, testing and masking puts your health and safety at risk, no matter what you think of these measures.

To be sure, the pandemic and the response to it have cost the University millions of dollars, losses that officials are surely seeking to recoup as soon as possible by cutting isolation housing and testing. Acting as if the pandemic is over or at least in an endemic phase can ensure GW’s financial health, but reducing its efforts to track and limit the spread of COVID jeopardizes the well-being of the community.

We can’t get through this pandemic alone, but that’s the message students have been getting from officials this semester – it’s all optional, voluntary, or recommended. GW has gone from mobilizing its institutional strength to confront a life-altering disease at the start of the pandemic to offering sugary, contradictory and baseless advice today. The pandemic is not over, no matter how bad we, or the University’s record, want it to be.

So keep wearing a mask, test yourself for COVID, and make contingency plans if you or your roommate need to self-isolate. GW may be washing its hands of the pandemic, but each of us can stay healthy, as well as those around us.

And even as GW seeks to cut costs, it should support students with the resources and guidance they need to be responsible for their own health – continuing to provide voluntary lab testing and KN95 masks until or unless supplies run out. And with officials clarifying their stance on solitary confinement, random responses and high-profile discussions with community coordinators can only go so far. A list of students willing to host people whose roommates are isolated or a more formal guide to off-campus housing options would objectively be a better help for students.

At the start of the pandemic, the University made a difficult decision to keep students safe. Now he’s making an easy decision that puts them at risk, letting his COVID response wither away under the guise of personal responsibility and financial strain. Inaccurate and unnecessary information and faulty policies are no way to keep students safe – we will do our part, as long as GW does too.

The Editorial Board is made up of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the Newsroom. This week’s staff op-ed was written by opinion editor Ethan Benn and contributing opinion editor Riley Goodfellow, based on discussions with research assistant Zachary Bestwick, sports editor Nuria Diaz, copy editor Jaden DiMauro, cultural editor Clara Duhon and social media manager Ethan Valliath.

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