The week leading up to Hope College’s brief Easter break brought both negative and positive developments in the school’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy: an announcement of available vaccines for students and faculty as well as a dramatic increase in positive COVID cases on campus.
In late March campus health notification emails informed students that through the wastewater testing program the B.1.1.7. Variant, commonly known as the “UK variant,” was detected in water samples. Later on, three cases within the student body were confirmed to be caused by this specific variant. While mitigation strategies and overall standards remain consistent, the new variant is known for its ability to spread quickly and easily, which could possibly contribute to a more wide-reaching breakout on campus.
On April 1 the weekly Campus Health update email announced a large increase in cases on campus, with a total of 70 active cases on campus and 146 close contacts in quarantine. This number was more cases and quarantine designations than had been seen the entire semester thus far. Campus Health cited that the uptick was due to a county and state-wide COVID-19 positivity trend as well as off campus gatherings. These suspected gatherings were allegedly not following safeguards or practicing campus or state COVID guidelines.
Both campus health officials and administration are urging the student body to continue practicing safeguards and to stay vigilant. Students must follow these rules to keep themselves and others safe as well as maintaining an in-person living and learning experience at Hope this spring semester. Students and organizations that have been found to be breaking any rules or policies will be subject to the judicial process via Hope College.
There are many ways students can do their part to keep themselves and the campus healthy. Students should monitor symptoms daily, and if any symptoms align with known COVID symptoms, they should contact campus health for testing. Students should also avoid social gatherings and spend time within their cohorts or small immediate social circle. Additionally, wearing masks, sanitizing areas, and washing hands are easy ways of preventing virus transmission.
While lots of updates have been plagued with negativity, campus health has recently announced some positive news in regards to the pandemic. A pharmaceutical provider has offered to establish a temporary vaccine clinic on campus to vaccinate both staff and students. An interest email was sent to students who would be willing to receive the vaccine. Current plans indicate that the vaccine will be available to all interested students who are at least 18 years of age as the provided dose will be Moderna, which has only been authorized for those 18 and older.
There are currently three different vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use within the U.S. Two of these are two shot doses that are required to be taken around four weeks apart. This includes both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single dose. It is important to note that with all three vaccines the full protective effects are not acquired until two weeks after the final dose.
Administration of the first dose will be occurring on April 16, 17, and 20. Specifics and sign up details will be emailed to students later in the week. Since the second dose must be administered approximately four weeks after, second doses will be provided May 14, 15, and 18. This timing lines up with the end of the semester and final exam week, meaning some students may have to return to campus or remain in their housing slightly longer than usual. It is still unclear how these logistical issues will be handled and if residential life will allow students to stay in housing longer.
The premise of an almost entirely vaccinated campus is especially important and exciting given the fact that Hope College has announced plans to resume normal operations this summer and into the Fall 2021 semester. A vastly vaccinated campus population would lower the probability of transmission significantly, helping normalcy and traditions to once again come alive.
Many students are looking forward to having all in-person classes and once again eating in the dining halls with all of their friends. Normalcy will also allow for large events like The Pull, an in-person Dance Marathon, and sporting events with full stands filled with spectators. For current freshmen, next year will offer them a whole new campus and opportunities to experience college life more fully. Conversely, it is a disappointing end for current seniors, as they graduate without the usual fanfare and exciting energy on campus. The optimistic future in a world post-pandemic is exciting for many both on and off campus. While it is easy to quickly celebrate its ending, it’s important to remember the lessons and realities that this pandemic has brought to light. This will hopefully allow for Hope College and people to move forward more equipped to handle difficult and unknown situations.