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Easing of COVID-19 policies is premature

On Thursday, March 3 all Brandeis students received an email update explaining upcoming relaxations of the COVID-19 policies on campus. This relaxation of policies comes with excitement, of course, it feels as though the world may be going back to some sort of normal for the first time in nearly two years. But, this change in policies also comes with immense anxiety for those who don’t feel ready to relax their personal defenses to COVID-19 and especially for those immunocompromised students who know they should not take any chances. 

To summarize the change in policies, vaccinated students will be required to test once a week as compared to the current 96 hour testing window. Vaccinated faculty, staff and affiliates are recommended to test once a week but it ultimately is optional. Because of the reduction of testing, the testing site at Mandel will be closed and all testing will occur in the Shapiro Science Center. This is concerning for students who currently have jobs at the testing sites, as many of them will be cut from schedules and getting hours—and therefore money—will become significantly harder. Additionally, vaccinated students are still capable of spreading COVID-19 similarly to unvaccinated students, so this restriction is illogical along those lines as well as generally unsafe. While COVID-19 is becoming less of a concern internationally, testing often creates a safety net for students, faculty and staff. 

With the testing updates there is a “recommendation” for students to take a second PCR test after their first test post-return from travel outside of New England. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with this idea in itself, but the concerning thing is that students won’t follow this recommendation. This means that there is a chance that students will have unknowingly contracted COVID-19 during their travels, which won’t show up on their test when taken right as they return, and potentially could spread COVID-19 before their next test a week later. Since students barely follow COVID-19 policies as they currently are, there is little hope in The Hoot editorial board that students will do what is “recommended,” “suggested” and considered “common sense.”

Changes in the masking policies are especially concerning to the editorial board. As of March 7, masks will be optional on campus for fully vaccinated students with few exceptions. Masks will still be required in classes, but students will be able to remove them at the discretion of their instructors. This doesn’t mean that instructors will ask other students in the class if they are comfortable with others removing their masks though, which means immunocompromised and/or otherwise concerned students may be sitting next to an individual who is unmasked. This will create many uncomfortable situations for students in the future. Spectators and audiences at indoor events with “concentrated occupancy” are still required to wear masks, but there is no definition of what constitutes concentrated occupancy in different locations. Masks will also still be required on all campus transportation and anywhere masking requirements are posted on campus. This means that unless a masking requirement is posted in the popular dorm common spaces, the SCC, Usdan or Gosman, students will be in concentrated indoor locations on campus without masks. While masking is still an option, it’s concerning for those who wish to continue masking to be around those who don’t. We are two years into this pandemic and it is well-known that masks protect others, not us. Even the best possible masks students can be wearing—KN95s—don’t always do the trick. 

These updated to University COVID-19 policies are concerning to say the least, and severe-anxiety-inducing to be as honest as possible. Immunocompromised students continue to be overlooked by Brandeis administration through the relaxation of these policies, and students will be put at risk due to the recklessness of others. The Brandeis Hoot emphatically disagrees with the relaxation of these policies and hopes students continue to test regularly and mask-up indoors. 

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