An open letter to administration on COVID-19

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There has been a COVID-19 wave on campus this Winter Term, with cases shooting up to 85 on the second week back, and cases hovering around the 30s and 40s for the past three weeks. Cases are even trending slightly up as of last week’s statistics, and while a lot of that can be attributed to the omicron variant, there are specific things that the administration at Lawrence, in my opinion, could do but hasn’t done to keep cases down on campus.  

I want to make a quick note here: When I say “admin” or “the administration” in this article, I am referring only to the officials directly involved in top-level decision making and pandemic planning. Not every single member of the administration is responsible for these decisions. 

That being said, I believe that the administration is largely responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak on campus at the end of Fall Term 2021. Our student body is 93% vaccinated, and while that’s better than the national vaccination rate, there’s still roughly 100 Lawrence students who aren’t vaccinated. Lawrence’s website states that “Lawrence University requires all students 16 and older accessing and living on campus to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.” On the other hand, Lawrence offers three exceptions to this rule. The first exception is “medical reasons,” which makes sense. Some people are physiologically not able to be vaccinated, and in that case, you should not be required to get vaccinated. The second exception is “religious belief,” which I don’t personally think should be a legitimate reason to endanger public health, but there is a First Amendment issue there. The third exception, however, “personal conviction,” is complete and utter crap and contradicts the first statement. If something is required unless you really, really don’t want to do it, it is by definition not required.  

On the other hand, Carleton College in Minnesota, another small, private liberal arts college, is 98–99% vaccinated and only offers exemptions for medical or religious reasons, not “personal conviction.” Now let’s compare the Fall 2021 COVID-19 outbreaks on both respective campuses: at Lawrence, the height of the spike saw 29 active cases, while at Carleton, the height of the spike was 9. This is especially astonishing since Carleton has 510 more students than Lawrence. To be fair, the omicron spike at Lawrence was slightly lower than Carleton’s.  

Aside from the “vaccine requirement,” I take issue with the fact that students have no 24-hour health service on campus and are left to guess what to do during off-hours, and the fact that students who have tested positive have been told to quarantine in their dorms. There’s also the issue of rapid tests being mostly reserved for sports teams, while conservatory students are asked to put off concerts, recitals and rehearsals. On top of that, virtual classes aren’t an option for students who do test positive, or who don’t feel comfortable being in an in-person class, putting disabled and immunocompromised students at a greater risk. And has there been any serious disciplinary action taken against those who walk around campus wearing their masks incorrectly all day?  

It’s clear that Lawrence University doesn’t have an adequate plan to deal with COVID-19, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We could take a stand and mandate vaccines, we could distribute rapid tests more fairly throughout the school, we could keep a virtual option open for students who need it and support our Wellness Center more during this public health crisis. Our administration could have chosen to handle this pandemic responsibly, and they can still choose to do the right thing.