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Students react to updated COVID-19 protocols

| Friday, January 14, 2022

Interim vice president for student affairs Gloria Roldan Jenkins and COVID-19 response team chair Mona Bowe outlined Saint Mary’s COVID-19 protocols for the spring semester in an email to students on Jan. 5.

The email stated that masking will be required in all indoor facilities on campus until Jan. 30 and in classrooms until Feb. 11. Vaccination requirements from the Fall were extended to include the booster shot, which students are to show proof of by Jan. 21, according to the email.

The masking requirements are similar enough to that of the Fall — in which students had to wear masks only in the classrooms — that many said they do not feel much of a difference after arriving on campus.

“The updates really haven’t changed my experience at all,” first-year Briana Houpt said. “It was more or less the same as when we left for break.”

First-year Bridget Donovan said she appreciates the new updates for helping keep the campus healthy.

“I think most students understand that you have to follow the policies to be safe. Even though it’s a little tiring, it’s important,” Donovan said.

Some students also said they approve of the booster requirement, which they find important for their safety and way of life.

“I support the booster requirement,” senior Isabella Thompson-Davoli said. “I think that the lives we live at school are possible because we’re all vaccinated.”

In an email sent to The Observer on Wednesday, Bowe explained that “as of late last week, approximately one-third of our students have uploaded their record.” Bowe said the number of uploads will increase quickly in the days ahead.

“We know from experience that many others have already received the booster, and just haven’t uploaded their record,” Bowe said.

Some Saint Mary’s students are still home after contracting COVID over winter break. First-year Cecelia Hockenberry from Ashtabula, Ohio tested positive for COVID on Jan. 4 and would have been able to return to school Jan. 10 had her symptoms not worsened.

Hockenberry appreciates her teachers who have worked with her to keep her caught up while still at home.

“Teachers have been really nice. I emailed them before academic affairs emailed them and they were super understanding,” she said on a phone call Wednesday.

Hockenberry received her booster shot in November and supports the College’s decision to increase mask requirements. She was surprised, however, that Saint Mary’s did not go virtual like many other schools.

“It seems like the kind of school that’s on top of the COVID regulations,” she said.

Senior Akpedze Balo similarly appreciates the protocols but worries about on-campus schooling as the pandemic rages.

“At one point I feel safer because they’re putting all these protocols in, but also if you’re doing all of this just to keep us on campus, then why are we on campus?” she said.

Especially frustrating for Balo and the most controversial rule from the Jan. 5 email are the new quarantine and isolation protocols.

Quarantined students will stay in the Mother Angela Care Center located in Regina Hall South, the email said, but those whose primary residence is within 300 miles of campus must plan to travel home and complete their isolation period.

This includes students from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, and in Balo’s case, Indianapolis. And travel plans, the email said, must be made within 24 hours of a positive test.

Balo does not have a car at school and with both parents working full time she said they cannot call out of work easily to come pick her up. And even if someone can come pick her up, Balo worries she would put the driver at risk.

“Not only am I going to live with them for a prolonged amount of time,” Balo said, “it’s already two and a half hours in an enclosed space with them.”

First-year Piper Ogden is from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, outside of Columbus. The drive home for her is nearly five hours, but just under 300 miles away. Because Ogden does not have a car at school, her parents will need to pick her up if she contracts COVID.

“It’s a lot to ask from my parents to do a 10-hour round trip just to do that,” she said.

Frustrated with the protocol, Ogden still trusts the College’s decision making.

“The whole situation is about trying to keep yourself safe but also trying to keep others safe, too,” she said.

Even students who have cars on campus are still in a bad situation, Thompson-Davoli, who lives in Florida, said. She called the protocol “a little crazy”.

“I got COVID on Christmas,” she said. “I couldn’t stay awake for more than a few hours.”

Driving hours away to get home while sick, she said, is dangerous.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to drive at all,” she said.

Director of public relations Lisa Knox said in an email to The Observer on Thursday that the College’s COVID Response Team made the policy in anticipation of a high number of quarantining students this semester.

”We feel this approach will keep space open for those who are not able to return home. Those who live within an easy drive can do so, giving families advanced notice to prepare.” she said in the email.

Knox also said the protocol is case dependent.

“The Health and Counseling Center team triages every student who tests positive. Within that process is the opportunity to discern whether students should enter quarantine and isolation on campus,” she said. “Hardship cases are absolutely considered.”

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