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Observer Editorial: Finish strong

| Friday, April 30, 2021

Life has been looking brighter in the tri-campus community lately — in more ways than one. The end of a long and difficult year is quickly approaching. The South Bend permacloud has finally given way to sunny skies. In the last few weeks, COVID-19 cases at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross have decreased to reach a steady low.

On Notre Dame’s campus in particular, life is beginning to look almost normal: Guests are enjoying the shared spaces of 24-hour dorm lounges for the first time this semester since February. Reinstalled volleyball nets and basketball rims are sparking long-awaited matchups among students. A quick survey of our campus’ quads will reveal larger group gatherings, faces unmasked and smiling.

In case you missed it, our tri-campus community seems to be several steps closer to enjoying the new perks of everyday life, thanks to vaccine rollout on the tri-campus. For starters, the Saint Mary’s April 16 vaccination clinic offered initial Pfizer vaccine doses to many Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students.

And, following the April 15 announcement that the University reached its 90% vaccination goal among undergraduate and professional students, the Notre Dame administration adjusted several COVID-19 restrictions on April 21 — and campus life has looked much livelier as a result.

Fortunately, these relaxed restrictions do not appear to be contributing to any increase in positive cases — daily numbers have been descending into the single digits on the University’s HERE Dashboard since the beginning of April, and that trend has continued even with the updated guidelines in place.

After more than a year of adjustments, uncertainty and adversity, we finally seem to be nearing a post-COVID reality. But where we’re at right now — as favorable as it may be — comes with its own set of challenges: Enthusiastic “almost there” attitudes, even if well-intentioned, can easily engender carelessness and recklessness. Although we should absolutely be grateful for our current standing and thankful for the people who helped us get here, we’re not at the finish line yet. We have to continue to stay safe.

And so, we’d like to remind Notre Dame students to receive their second dose of the vaccine at the on-campus vaccination site between April 29 and May 6, or to upload their off-campus vaccination verification through the University Health Services portal.

Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students can also receive their second doses at the Saint Mary’s site reopening on May 7. Saint Mary’s students can let the College know they have been vaccinated off campus using an online form in order to help with contact tracing efforts and determining quarantine protocols. Holy Cross students who have been fully vaccinated at an off campus location should contact director of counseling and health Tom DeHorn with documentation.

As the semester winds down and our campus begins to resemble reality before COVID, we urge all members of the tri-campus community to not let their guard down. We’re on the home stretch. For the sake of our graduating seniors and in hopes of an ordinary 2021-2022 academic year, we must stay safe and follow current health guidelines for the remainder of the semester.

So wear a mask indoors (and in crowded groups outdoors). Maintain physical distance when possible. Wash your hands constantly. Report any symptoms you may have. Show up to surveillance testing until the requirement is lifted.

Additionally, much of this continued care requires an active acknowledgement of what’s happening beyond our respective campuses. Following successful vaccination efforts and eased restrictions, tri-campus students seem to be rapidly approaching the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must also keep in mind the varying states of our surrounding communities. 

More than 90% of University students have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and will hopefully be fully vaccinated soon. But in St. Joseph County, only 78,096 residents (about 29%) have been fully vaccinated as of April 29. As of April 21, 98,902 residents (about 36%) had received one dose of a two-dose series. Although these numbers are promising, they are far from optimal — and county health officials are concerned about an incoming plateau in vaccination rates.

These statistics are not unique to St. Joseph County, either — the U.S. seems to be encountering a nationwide vaccine plateau. Clinics in counties across the country are asking for a pause on vaccine shipments due to lower demand.

As members of the tri-campus community, we have a responsibility to care for the wider communities to which we belong, and that means continuing to observe mask-wearing and physical distancing guidelines as recommended — especially as we venture outside of our insulated, highly-vaccinated campuses.

Our University’s 90% vaccination rate is unbelievably rare — no county in the U.S. or country in the world boasts a percentage that high — and this is a privilege we must acknowledge as we travel back home across the country and around the world at the conclusion of this semester. We should treat the communities we visit with the same level of care with which we have treated our campus community this academic year.

That being said, we’d like to end with a note of gratitude. To every student who did their part in observing health guidelines to keep our campuses safe: thank you. To faculty who weathered the countless changes to classroom protocols while still caring for and educating students: thank you. To custodial staff who ensured a safe and healthy environment in our facilities under suboptimal working conditions: thank you. To administrative officials who led our campus communities through unbelievably challenging times, oversaw the implementation of health and safety measures and organized mass vaccination efforts: thank you.

Witnessing our campus communities persevere through this past year has been an unforgettable experience, and keeping the tri-campus informed through daily reporting on COVID-19 — the good, the bad and the ugly — has been an honor and a privilege. 

Now let’s finish strong.

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