Richards: The campus bubble

Jason Richards, Staff Columnist

Last semester, Case Western Reserve University kept a less than one percent COVID-19 positivity rate by reducing the campus population, initiating safety measures and routine testing of students and faculty. This semester, more than 2,000 students are expected to return to campus, which introduces a new challenge to campus life.

Though health professionals are continuing to work to distribute the vaccine, there are still a lot of unknowns coming into this new semester. I’m certainly not the only one who felt safer in the CWRU bubble than at home. Inside the bubble, you can guarantee that any members of the campus community you interact with have had a recent negative COVID-19 test. This certainty brought peace of mind to me above all, and amidst a very abnormal semester, I felt that I was able to live as close to a normal college experience within the campus community as possible.

As winter break approached, I assumed that I’d have a similar experience at home. Then, people close to me began catching COVID-19. Friends and family, although distant, had complications with the virus, and it never felt more real then.

I followed the guidelines and kept my distance and luckily, no one in my immediate family or myself came down with the virus or any symptoms. Above all, it was a wake-up call to the pandemic sweeping the nation.

At home, there was no weekly testing, limited sharing of common spaces or controlled contact with others. There were no emails to say that a recent location you’ve been to had a positive case: no efficient methods of contact tracing.

While at home, I realized the exceptional job CWRU did in keeping a safe campus community through testing and safety protocols. This is also why it is vital that we follow in the same footsteps this semester—but with the ability to keep an even larger campus population safe.

Currently, dining halls are offering predominantly take-out options in order to comply with health and safety standards set by CWRU and local experts. Any dining hall faculty or professors you may come in contact with have also had recent negative test results. Many of the variables that can cause an increase in the COVID-19 positive test rate have been minimized, creating a safer environment where students and faculty alike can live and continue to learn with as little interruption as possible.

At the same time, CWRU’s administration has realized the importance of communication with the campus population. Last semester, many students––myself included––felt that transparency on decisions and communication was lacking. There were last minute decisions emailed to the community, and huge decisions that had disrupted the flow of campus safety protocols, including the first presidential debate, which was hosted in September of last year.

Over the winter break, though, emails have kept the community informed about the fickle, ever-changing pandemic circumstances, and I think they have done a great job improving from last semester. School officials have kept students and faculty informed about progress toward bringing the vaccine to campus, move-in updates and protocols, testing procedures, frequently asked questions and more.

I am excited to return to campus, and even more curious to see how the influx of students affects COVID-19 transmission. We can only hope that we keep up the same work that maintained a low positive rate last semester, leaving the threat of the virus as distant as possible from campus.

Correction: This article originally stated that “more than 2,000 additional students are expected to return to campus” for the spring semester. That figure was incorrect. Instead, around 2,000 total students are returning to campus.