As the fall semester begins, Hope’s policies towards the Covid-19 pandemic have shifted significantly from last year to accommodate all of the changes that have taken place since the start of the pandemic.
On August 23, the FDA announced full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone over the age of 16. This announcement led many schools, businesses and organizations to mandate vaccines with hopes of being able to ease other Covid-19 restrictions in return. The news of this approval follows countless surges of Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant. According to the CDC, the new variant has been found to be twice as contagious as previous variants, but vaccines have still proven to be effective, especially against serious illness.
With vaccines widely available and the Pfizer vaccine having received full FDA approval, 83% of Hope students reported being fully vaccinated according to recent Campus Health updates. Any students not fully vaccinated are required to participate in regular surveillance testing, and tests are available at the Health Center for those who are experiencing symptoms. Regardless of vaccination status, masks are required indoors at all times.
Additionally, the wastewater testing program will continue to monitor levels of Covid-19 in residence halls. Quarantine and isolation housing is available for students living more than 300 miles from campus; otherwise, students must quarantine at home.
The Delta variant and other variants still pose a threat and require mitigation. According to the state of Michigan’s Covid-19 Vaccine Dashboard, 60.7% of the population of Michigan is fully vaccinated. As a result, the Delta variant has left the state’s unvaccinated population vulnerable to a surge in cases. The current positivity rate is 7.6%, according to the Holland Sentinel, and this rate is about six times higher than the rate in June. Of those cases, 98% have been among the unvaccinated.
The Delta variant has been particularly concerning for young children. Since children under 12 are unable to be vaccinated, they are left especially vulnerable. Pediatric ICU beds have been filling up in Covid-19 hotspots such as Texas and Florida. Michigan has not seen dramatic effects of the Delta variant on school-age children, mostly due to mitigation strategies such as requiring masks in schools, but it is definitely a concern. As of August 30, Holland Hospital has reported a 70% ICU capacity rate, according to the state of Michigan.
As the winter months approach and options for outdoor gatherings become more difficult, health officials are concerned about the possible spread of Covid-19. Michigan had a significant spike in the virus in the winter months last year, and health officials are wary of a possible winter spike.
Nearby schools, such as Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University, have also been adjusting Covid-19 mitigation measures throughout the vaccine rollout and the spread of the Delta variant. At the University of Michigan, 90% of undergraduate classes are in-person; however, most lecture-style classes remain online. At Michigan State, 75% of undergraduate classes are in-person. At both schools, vaccines are required for students and staff, as well as masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Grand Valley State University has similar policies, and they have begun to expand wastewater testing programs for Covid-19.
Although this school year isn’t completely back to normal, the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions have brought greater opportunities for in-person interactions. “I think the new policies are good, and I think it’s good we can have more people around. It has really helped build community, which is what Hope and the world really needs right now,” said sophomore Maggie Anderle, a Dykstra RA.
However, maintaining the balance between being together and enforcing Covid-19 mitigation measures has still been a challenge on campus. “There is a lot of resistance to the mask-wearing even though the rules are a lot less strict than last year. I’m in an all-freshman dorm this year, however, so that might not be the case in other dorms. It can be harder to build relationships when mask rules challenge the relationship between RA’s and residents,” Anderle said.
Many students are thankful to be back on campus to enjoy a more personal and social experience than last year. With more traditional Hope events, such as The Gathering and The Pull, coming back in-person this year, campus feels more alive and excited for the year ahead. “It is so much better being a Hope student this year than last year,” Anderle said.