When it comes to COVID-19, our actions matter

| Staff Writer

Just a few days ago, on Feb. 5, I received an email from the Office of the Vice Chancellor informing me that a 15-person, off-campus party had resulted in 10 positive COVID-19 cases. Aside from my frustration that Wash. U. students continue to be irresponsible, I also reflected on what might be leading to these gatherings in the first place. Is this a problem with how Wash. U. is handling COVID-19, or is something else potentially at fault?

If this is an issue with Wash. U. policy, other schools with better policies would probably not be having problems with COVID-19 spreading at maskless gatherings, right? However, this is an issue at many colleges across the country, regardless of how strict or loose their COVID-19 policies are. Johns Hopkins University recently reported a cluster of almost 60 COVID-19 cases resulting from an off-campus party. Prior to this event, Johns Hopkins required students to get tested twice a week, and they are now increasing that to three times a week, a much more frequent testing policy than Wash. U.’s system of testing once every two weeks. Johns Hopkins University also put restrictions on all gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, while Wash. U. has allowed students to gather in small numbers as long as masks and distancing are maintained.

Despite these differences in policy, both schools have experienced various clusters of COVID-19 cases due to maskless gatherings. So, if it’s not directly linked to strict policy differences, why are these gatherings still happening?

While policy does play a role in how COVID-19 is handled at college campuses––and I have had my fair share of frustration with Wash. U.’s COVID-19 policies and lack of communication––it ultimately comes down to individual responsibility. No matter the policies, if students cannot take it upon themselves to be responsible, COVID-19 will continue to spread.

And no, maintaining a “bubble” with your friends does not necessarily count as being responsible. Besides the possible exception of those living together, creating a “bubble” does not guarantee COVID-19 safety, as confusion over how a “pod” or “bubble” is defined can potentially lead to unsafe interactions outside of that so-called bubble. Even if you are living with others, if you know that you acted carelessly with people outside of those you live with, it is your responsibility to communicate with those you are living with to ensure that others will not be negatively affected by your actions.

The entirety of the on-campus population is also not a safe “bubble.” Students go off campus, opening up the possibility of catching the virus and bringing it back to the school. Going off campus isn’t necessarily the problem––it’s the level of responsibility that students exhibit at those off-campus locations that matters. Going to a maskless bar or a maskless gathering at an apartment are actions that could possibly impact the rest of the school or even the wider St. Louis community.

On an optimistic note, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been declining as more people across the country are getting vaccinated. COVID-19 cases in St. Louis are also steadily declining. Every day, we get closer and closer to the home stretch; the end is in sight. However, that does not mean we can be irresponsible. And when the time comes, get the vaccine––another important act of individual responsibility.

While individual responsibility is key to remaining safe during COVID-19, I acknowledge that some of Wash. U.’s policies have been inconsistent and often confusing. Miscommunications surrounding getting tested and quarantine procedures are frustrating. Upon returning to campus this semester, I had to spend over $100 to change my flight to an earlier time because I learned through a group chat that testing closed at 4 p.m. Had the University communicated times and procedures more effectively, this problem likely could have been avoided. These inconsistencies are aggravating, and Wash. U. needs to improve its system of communication with the student body to be more clear about testing and COVID-19 rules. However, if students don’t make an effort to be individually responsible, various policies––clearly stated or not––have no effect.

Students, let’s do better. For us to be able to keep COVID-19 cases low, every single one of us has to be putting effort into wearing masks, limiting gatherings and being constantly aware of how our actions could affect ourselves, other students and the St. Louis region as a whole.

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