COVID in the New Year

01/10/2022Mike Sosulski
Students walk together across campus

As we enter the 3rd calendar year of COVID-19, now is the perfect time to pause and recognize that even as we continue to navigate this ever-changing pandemic, some key things have changed.

Initially, without vaccines available and with a more limited understanding of how this virus worked, the only safe choice was a shutdown. No one knew enough to offer any viable alternatives to the campus closure and then the national home quarantine that followed. 

But now, two years later, vaccines and booster shots are readily available. The result for those vaccinated and boosted (the vast majority of us on campus) is a high probability that if you do contract COVID, you won't get very sick or require hospitalization. We also know more about how the virus actually spreads. These developments mean that we have passed the point where our default response to positive cases is to cancel all events and activities, or even to significantly limit in-person interactions. 

Instead, with the benefit of expert knowledge and guidance from the medical community and the power of the vaccine, we are able to transition to a place where we can focus on mitigation strategies, providing sound guidance on how we can safely do normal things in person. Being together in person on our campus though, means doubling down on the proven tactics for decreasing transmission risks, including the vaccine requirement, masking in all indoor public spaces, testing (especially those unvaccinated and/or symptomatic,) and isolating those who do contract COVID. 

The Omicron variant that represents today’s challenge is highly transmissible.  Because of the nature of its spread, it is simply not realistic to expect that we will be COVID-free this semester. We know we will not be, and at times, case counts may be higher than what we’ve previously experienced. We can reasonably expect some number of students, faculty and staff alike to test positive, particularly in the first few weeks of the semester. We are prepared for that and will manage those outcomes through our policies around quarantine and isolation and worker leave guidance. And again, we can also anticipate that for the vast majority who do contract COVID, the symptoms will be mild or non-existent. 

But the pervasiveness of Omicron doesn't mean that we won’t be operating as safely as possible; instead, it means that our approach is responsive to what we know now and the new tools we have to combat it.  

COVID is here to stay, but so are we. We will continue to respond responsibly, cautiously, and appropriately to the risks, knowing that our community is well over 90% vaccinated. It has been a long couple of years but what these years have shown us is that our campus community is both resilient and responsive to anything thrown our way. 

We will be sending out weekly updates from the WC Response Team that will include any changes to our COVID guidance and operations for the coming semester. To all of you: students, staff, faculty, parents, families, friends, and alums, who have patiently committed to all of our efforts to keep Washington College safe and thriving for these past two years, we thank you and look forward to the spring 2022 semester!