Campus culture and policy shifts as COVID-19 cases spike 

A student prepares to put on their masks as they head into Warch. Photo by Alana Melvin

In Week 3 of Spring term, Lawrence University saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases. On Sunday, April 17, 67 new student cases and 75 total active cases were reported, the highest total count of active student cases and the second highest total active cases on campus for this school year. On Tuesday, April 19, it was reported that 19 additional community members had tested positive.

An anonymous student, who had tested positive for COVID-19 and was, at the time of interview, in isolation, spoke on how isolation affected them. This student will be referred to as X. Despite showing symptoms on Monday, the student was unable to test until Tuesday, when their roommate discovered that they had a spare rapid test left. According to the interviewee, the response from Wellness Services after they were informed of a positive test result was quick and orderly, for which the student was grateful.  

A student prepares to put on their masks as they head into Warch. Photo by Alana Melvin

Students in isolation are given a $50 per day allowance for food. The anonymous student, who was staying at the La Quinta Inn to wait out their isolation, lamented that the room key for isolating students had been deactivated after day one of their stay. The inability to go outside made isolation a very unpleasant experience, according to the student.   

“Not being able to go outside had a huge negative impact on my mental health, not to mention my physical health.” they said. “My space already felt pretty cramped and not having fresh air or the ability to stretch my legs and clear my head only made me feel more trapped. It can be kind of anxiety-triggering to only see the same walls for a week.”  

The student also said that in their experience, there was a lack of information about the process of leaving isolation, and that it was unclear when they could come back to campus and whether a positive test result would start the 5-day isolation period over again.  

The anonymous student also spoke on surveillance testing, arguing that it should be brought back. A student survey posted on Facebook and Instagram by the Lawrentian shows that many members of the student body agree. Out of 227 responses, 81% of respondents said that surveillance testing should be resumed. However, opinions on whether or not more precautions should be taken were less pronounced.  

The survey also asked students if the President’s Ball should have been handled differently. 83% responded with some variation of yes, offering potentially valuable insight into how the student body wants to see future events handled. 27% of respondents said that there should have been testing done beforehand, while 16% of respondents said that masking should have been required. 37% of responses said that both precautions should have been taken.  

Lillian Thompson, co-president of the Student Organization for University Planning (SOUP), talked about the planning process for the President’s Ball. SOUP had a conversation leading up to the event where it was decided that because campus was mask optional, the event would be too. She described the decision as a calculated risk but lamented that the case count was more than expected.   

Thompson emphasized that blame does not rest solely with the President’s Ball, citing pregame parties and afterparties that took place the same weekend. Furthermore, according to Thompson, SOUP does not regret the decision that was made given the info available at the time, but rather sees the President’s Ball as a learning experience. Future events will be handled on a case-by-case basis, following the campus’s guidelines as a rule of thumb. 

Another anonymous student who tested positive for COVID-19 and has been isolating, spoke highly of Lawrence’s response to positive results, particularly the relative luxury of staying in a hotel room or Airbnb. This student will be referred to as Y. They see the virus as just something we have to live with now and argue that surveillance testing makes little to no difference for how costly it is. Y was surprised to see the return to yellow light, but thought it was a good shift overall.  

Erin Buenzli, Assistant Dean of Wellness Services, stated that symptomatic students are being tested at the present moment and that there are no plans to institute surveillance testing at this time. However, should the need arise, Wellness Services does have the capacity to do so, she said. On April 20, Lawrence offered a one-day opportunity for PCR testing.  

A social distancing sign. Photo by Alana Melvin.

“Increased student positivity rates, the availability of quarantine and isolation space, as well as local access to hospitals are the indicators that are considered for a change in the indicator or changes to protocol.” said Buenzli. 

Buenzli also expressed her faith in the students to continue to honor the pledge despite COVID-19 fatigue and the return to masking.  

Stephen Sieck, Associate Professor and Co-director of Choral Studies, spoke on how he has navigated this term’s COVID-19 rates in the classroom. Sieck acknowledged that choir is a higher risk activity for an infectious respiratory disease such as COVID-19. As such, the 130-person choir learning Brahms’s “Ein deutsches Requiem” has continued to be fully masked since the beginning of this term and through the weeks as green light status switched to yellow.  

On Thursday, April 14, Sieck moved choir rehearsals to Zoom after he had received numerous emails from students informing him that they were close contacts or had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“I’m grateful that we’ve been well-masked and prevented a super-spreading event in choir, but the sheer number of infections/close-contacts on campus suggests we need a brief pivot.” wrote Sieck in the email to the choir. 

This week’s Student Welfare Committee meeting saw concerns coming from students in music ensembles and theatre productions, considering the difficulty of masking while performing in both disciplines.  

Further changes to protocols include reducing capacity in the Brengel Dining room and opening up additional spaces in Warch to eat.