Johnson: COVID-19 and our college campus: some observations

Grace Johnson, Staff Writer

This newspaper’s goal is to provide insight into the ongoing events of the week at Case Western Reserve University—an “observation” on campus and non-campus-related entities. It seemed fitting to tap into the realm of this namesake for the first issue of the semester and provide some thoughts on these first strange weeks at this university we call home. 

On that note, let’s address the elephant in the room. 

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the trajectory of our campus pretty much entirely from its conception. In the spring of 2020, the university abruptly sent thousands of students home with very little knowledge or guidance on what to expect. The following fall saw weekly testing and first-year students with no roommates, and left second- and third-year students without a place to live.

However, in spring 2021, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel; vaccines became widely available, including within our campus community. Coronavirus numbers went down, and a world in which we could live normally seemed to be a possibility, especially during the summer months when numbers were so low that our CWRU administration briefly lifted the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals.

The very beginning of the fall semester followed suit: a vaccination mandate followed by bimonthly testing led to small numbers of cases, with students able to attend all in-person classes for the first time since March 2020. However, the end of the semester came with significantly more COVID-19 cases and a booster-shot mandate for the spring semester due to the new Omicron variant.

Now, we find ourselves in a situation different from anything we have experienced thus far—two weeks of remote classes with roommates and while also having a fully populated campus. I, for one, worry about roommate conflict within this time, as options for leaving are minimal, and overlapping Zoom classes in the same space could result in numerous disagreements and frustrations. 

During my time at home in isolation at the beginning of the pandemic, there were times where I was left frustrated with my family and wanted to get away, but I was unable to do so given the circumstances. This situation, however, is more complex than that. Most dorm rooms are shoebox-sized and are shared by students who most likely have only known each other for a short time, making them less likely to air their grievances for fear of pushback or damaging new relationships. 

However, for myself and many others, single-room status may lead to an entirely different host of problems. I fear for the mental health of those in these situations and that many will end up traveling home, ultimately creating more opportunities for the coronavirus to spread. 

I sincerely hope that our university’s administration is weighing students’ mental health just as seriously as their physical health. I also hope that CWRU’s counseling services are prepared for a potential onslaught of students struggling through these dark times.

While I agree that for the time being, online classes are safer during these times of COVID, I believe that eventually, students’ mental health and learning ability may take precedence—especially with an almost 100% rate of full vaccination and the mask mandate on campus. 

Further, I wonder if the distribution of KN95 or N95 masks to all students might also aid in mitigating this threat, as they have been proven to be more effective in protecting against the coronavirus when compared to other types of masks. 

I did not write this observation to complain or offer a pessimistic view of our current situation, but rather to show what we may need to be prepared for in the coming weeks so we can proactively address certain issues.

I hope that this article helps someone in showing that others may also be struggling in the foreseeable future. This is a friendly reminder that these circumstances are not forever and that this storm will, with time and prudence, be followed by clear skies. 

Things right now may seem bleak, but if we stick through this troubling time and address issues that may arise, we can truly get through it and come out safer, stronger and more ready to learn than before.