On March 16, the Case Western Reserve University community received an update on the new COVID-19 protocols. Due to the current university positivity rate being below 1%, CWRU loosened COVID-19 regulations on campus, especially regarding our long-standing mask mandate. Now the university will no longer require masks except for when students are in class, CWRU transportation services and clinical settings. While it is uplifting that positive COVID-19 cases have been declining, the rapid change in protocols might be a bit sudden and preemptive.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that this pandemic is not completely over. COVID-19 will continue to be a part of our “new normal” and the United States hasn’t reached herd immunity yet. Luckily, most of the CWRU community is vaccinated and is compliant with regulations. However, there are immunocompromised people on this campus along with those who are not able to receive the vaccine due to medical reasons. Therefore, it’s critical that we remember to be mindful of our daily activities and actions. Although as of March 21, we will not be required to wear masks on campus, we can still be considerate. For example, if you have exposed yourself to large groups, especially off campus, consider taking extra precautions and wear a mask, regardless of the new protocol. We shouldn’t wear masks just for the sake of wearing masks, but rather, we should remember that despite us being done with this pandemic, this pandemic is not done with us.
Furthermore, since surveillance testing is no longer a requirement, it will be more difficult to discern who has COVID-19 and who is suffering from some other ailment. Of course, if anyone is symptomatic, they should get tested for COVID-19; however, if they have mild symptoms, they might not want to go to University Health Services (UHS) to get checked out or might think it’s unnecessary to take a rapid COVID-19 test. It’s easy to ignore or rationalize symptoms, whether it be by attributing feelings to a common cold, sleep deprivation or a lack of self-care. That being said, we should shift to a mindset where we stay home if we are sick, regardless of our COVID-19 status. No one wants to go into isolation even if they know it’s for the best, especially if they live on-campus and could end up in dingy isolation housing. Further, if students don’t voluntarily test themselves for COVID-19, it will be increasingly difficult to mitigate the spread on campus, possibly leading to all these mandates coming back in full force. So if you think you might have been exposed, or are just feeling a bit off, just take a rapid COVID-19 test. CWRU is providing them across campus, and for students who don’t want to get tested through the university, the federal government is also distributing free rapid tests at COVIDtests.gov.
While it makes sense that with lowered case counts the university would want to ease restrictions—as we have discussed in a previous editorial—CWRU isn’t known for consistency in their rules. We are all tired of the pandemic and as much as it would be easy to pretend that low COVID-19 numbers means we can go back to “normal”—whatever that means these days—new dangerous variants could still arise. So, as CWRU’s community continues to navigate these new protocols and test freedoms, let’s continue to be careful—whether that is through masking or going to UHS when we feel unwell. However, at the same time, let us be grateful that COVID-19 seems to be receding and let us hope that it won’t rise once again.