When I decided to leave for winter break, I knew I was taking a risk. I knew that traveling during a pandemic was not the smartest thing to do. However, I was sick of being stuck on campus in my apartment all the time. Sometimes, the days would feel like a sci-fi movie, as I would have to close the blinds so that people could see my face over Zoom. I thought that I could be an astronaut if I wanted to, because this is how their training must be.
Lewis & Clark was successful at keeping everyone safe last semester. With 2,781 community COVID-19 tests and 16 known positive results with campus impact, LC managed to keep the on-campus positivity rate to 0.22%. However, it was not an easy semester. Adjustments should be made to support students mentally, and ensure that they have a fair experience regardless of where they live and what their financial capabilities are.
I find attestation forms to be brilliant. I know not all colleges do that, and I think that is why their COVID-19 cases spread so quickly. Effluent testing, offering online classes and testing everyone during the first week helps curb the spread of the virus. On top of these, the recently introduced amnesty policy makes sure that “no information from contact tracing efforts conducted by Wellness Services staff is ever shared by Wellness staff with the office of Student Rights and Responsibilities,” creating incentive for students to be transparent about their potential exposures.
However, some policies impact groups of students negatively. As a student who does not have a car, for example, I felt that the reduced Pioneer Express schedule made my life more difficult as it went downtown only twice right before dinner started. This essentially means you need to take one of the shuttles downtown and the other back to campus, giving you only 62 minutes downtown. Beyond being unfair, as the school cannot track where the students who own cars go, this is not a realistic policy as students still do go downtown. Some take Ubers, but because those are expensive, others take public transportation. I have personally witnessed students taking the Pioneer Express to Fred Meyer and then taking other buses downtown. This may limit the number of students going downtown, but using Ubers, Lyfts and public transportation increases the chances of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19.
Additionally, I feel like the restrictions for students who live on campus and off campus differ in intensity. It is easy for off-campus students to come to campus. However, it is hard for those living on campus to leave even when they want to engage in low-risk outdoor activities. It is also important to note that 10 out of 16 positive cases during the fall semester were off-campus students or visitors. On top of this, parents traveled from all over the country to help assist students move out right before Thanksgiving break. There were parents entering residences and in Fields Dining Hall, which I personally saw. I know that the school is doing its best to keep everyone safe, but there is a stark difference in how one experiences restrictions depending on where they live and what their financial capabilities are.
It also surprises me that the college has not created more outdoor places for students to socialize. Patio heaters and Plexiglas (which the college already has) can offer students a safe way to socialize. Considering that the outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is quite low (and much lower with Plexiglas, masks and social distancing), such spaces could offer students safe and enjoyable experiences whilst discouraging them from socializing indoors. I know that some organizations tried to have online events last semester, but staring at a screen for an extra hour or so is the last thing you want to do if you have been looking at the entire day.
Over winter break, I realized the mental toll COVID-19 restrictions had on me. I know that we all got used to it, but what we are going through is not a usual phenomenon. We still do not fully understand the mental impact it will have on all of us. I know that things are easier said than done, and there is always a financial aspect to changing the current system. However, protecting our mental health is more important than ever today. The college should take the necessary steps to make sure that restrictions are fair rather than restricting on-campus students, who are already stuck here, even further.
This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log and its editorial board.