The university saw an increase in positivity rates on campus last week, with 135 students testing positive on the week of March 20, according to the Brandeis COVID-19 dashboard. Even though the numbers have decreased in comparison to last week, the numbers are still strikingly higher than what the university is used to seeing, with 42 students testing positive. The university had been experiencing an uptick in cases prior to the week of March 20, but policies were not changed until the community was well into the spike.
It is alarming to see this rise in numbers, and students have been confused by the guidelines set by the university. The language used to describe COVID-19 protocol is ambiguous, students are getting mixed messages over how long their contagious period is and when they are allowed to resume regular campus life. Some students have been allowed out on day five, due to the lack of symptoms but continue to test positive on rapid tests. Despite the positive rapids, students are allowed to resume all campus activities—except for athletics.
We appreciate that the university resumed its mask mandate in Gosman for areas with twenty or more people. We think the move to peel back mask mandates might have been unfortunately timed with the increase in cases and may have exacerbated the issue. We understand there was no way to predict the new variant — Omicron BA.2 — and that it would spread like wildfire. So we appreciate the reinstatement of some mask mandates on campus to keep community members safe.
We also understand that the university’s contact tracing system was overwhelmed these past two weeks. We want to thank the contact tracers who have been tirelessly working to help mitigate the spread as fast as possible, which is a difficult take. When you have 135 individuals test positive it is difficult to get in touch with all of their close contacts, especially if people were at large gatherings. We understand that the delay in contact tracing was not ideal but this is when community members need to step up and take initiative for themselves.
Students should inform their close contacts when they become aware that they have tested positive. It becomes your job to protect the people who are your friends after all and alert them that they have been exposed. Even if your passport is green, if your friend tells you they have tested positive and you are a close contact it is your job to quarantine yourself. You may feel fine, but you could be unknowingly spreading it to others.
We need to take care of ourselves and others during these times. It may be unfortunate to miss that club meeting or not be able to get dinner with your friends. FOMO hits hard in COVID-19 times. But at the end of the day you have to look out for people’s health, and that includes telling people who you have contact traced that they may have been exposed when our contact tracing team is behind.
It can be scary to tell your friends that you have exposed them to COVID-19, but it shouldn’t be! It wasn’t done with malicious intent, or even done on purpose. You may feel guilty about it, but we have to work to get rid of that stigma surrounding COVID-19. It can be hard to break a habit that we’ve built for two years after we’ve created this mentality to avoid COVID-19 at all costs. At the end of the day we will probably all get it at some point, and it is not a matter of if but when we will get it.
Professors are also contributing to this problem by not making their classes accommodating to students in quarantine or isolation. Students may not adhere to contact tracing protocol if their passport is still green because they feel they have an obligation to go to class. Despite receiving warnings from friends that they are a close contact, some students have continued their lives on campus until their passport is gray because they do not wish to fall behind on their course load. Some members of our editorial board have received deductions in their grades due to not attending in person class due to being quarantined.
There’s also no real way of enforcing any of the policies put in place, especially with regards to masking after testing positive. Students are allowed to be released from isolation after day five if they are not experiencing symptoms. However, they are asked to remain masked in all public settings on campus through day 10 of testing positive. This puts a lot of trust in people to actually follow the rules, with no method of enforcement. Additionally, students are just expected to be trusted when in isolation or quarantine to social distance and remain in their residences or masked outside while getting food. Students also have been seen not following the rules put in place on Brandeis transportation since these rules have been enacted. Not having any type of enforcement efforts on these issues will perpetuate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
University administration, in an email to students on March 25 stated that contact tracers have concluded the “spread is coming mainly from student indoor, off-campus gatherings.” While this may be true, this statement takes blame away from the University’s loosening of on-campus restrictions, the obligation students feel to attend classes due to professors not having remote options and the very likely transmission of COVID-19 in on-campus spaces.
We are beginning to see the end of this though, as the dashboard updates have shown a decrease in positive cases. Despite this slow decline, we encourage students, faculty and Brandeis administration to keep the safety of the greater community in mind.