Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

COVID-19 is still here, and we need to prepare for what’s next

As the cold weather finally starts and we hunker down indoors to stay away from the harsh winter, it is no surprise that illness will spread in a rampant manner. Now, nearly four years after COVID-19 began spreading in the United States, the question lives on: how are we to continue with our lives while a virus that has claimed the lives of over a million Americans rages on?

Like all viruses, COVID-19 is difficult to contain and even harder to prevent, considering that mutations happen quickly. Although many of these variants have insignificant effects on patient outcomes, others have been shown to spread faster and increase hospitalizations. For instance, most current infections come from Omicron and its many smaller variations. According to the CDC, Omicron was first identified in November of 2021, but the variant that accounts for most of the infections in this current spike, JN.1, is one of many subvariants of Omicron that have wreaked havoc on infection rates. The current vaccines cannot keep up with the changing variations, so fully vaccinated people are becoming symptomatic despite the consistent rollout of new booster vaccines. 

Rapid testing was a luxury few could access in the initial waves of COVID-19. Now, tests are given out for free; Carleton even has test kits free of charge in many of the vending machines. 

The easy access to testing has saved countless lives. Being able to know you are sick with COVID-19 and then being able to isolate through the brunt of your viral load is game-changing. 

But as the pandemic continues, many Americans are facing frustration and exhaustion from having to constantly be on high alert for whether their innocent sniffle is COVID-19 or just allergies, and as a result, many people just don’t take a test when they feel sick. I know people who have  adopted this “ignorance is bliss” policy, and in doing so, they might be spreading COVID-19 incredibly quickly. The current CDC guidelines state that an infected person must isolate for five days following their first symptoms, followed by an additional five days of wearing an N-95 and being cautious around other people. On the trimester system where missing even one day of class can feel like you are inescapably behind, it makes sense that students would be hesitant to test. Even with Zoom meetings, missing a whole week of class is incredibly stressful. 

But if these past four years have illustrated anything, it is that COVID-19 is not going anywhere. Sure, we can limit exposure to the virus as much as possible, but current epidemiologists believe that it is becoming a cyclical virus like the flu. With this in mind, people and governments must change their current mindset about infection prevention.

At an individual level, we need to continue getting booster vaccines against COVID-19. As previously stated, viruses mutate and grow resistant to vaccines at an alarming rate, so to maintain protection from the newest strains, vaccines are a first line of defense. 

But the CDC and the US government also owe us updated COVID-19-19 isolation guidelines. The five-day total isolation period paired with an additional five days of N-95 use is far more than in other parts of the world. For example, the UK’s NHS does not require a test if you are having COVID-19-19 symptoms. If you test positive, they then recommend you, “try to stay home” for three to five days, depending on your age, and you can return to work or school once you break your fever. 

A possible solution that some public health experts recommend is that isolation should take in a similar way to what is currently in place with the flu, where you can return to regular activity after a certain period of being asymptomatic. The truth is, the current guidelines are unrealistic for a world that has generally moved on from COVID-19. For instance, if a Carleton student were to be completely asymptomatic but still test positive, they would need to miss a whole week of class. As previously stated, on the Carleton trimester system, this is a large amount of instruction time to miss. Additionally, if a professor or instructor were to be asymptomatic but test positive, they would need to change their course to fit an online format for a whole tenth of the term, which is by no means an easy feat. This is an unsustainable practice to follow, and so many people are not following it outright. 

Adapting COVID-19 policies to our ever-changing world is not new. At the beginning of the pandemic, the isolation period was set at fourteen days. But after more information about COVID-19 came out, the CDC loosened their recommendation to keep up with the needs of the American people. It is about time that a change like that happens again. 

So, even though headlines rarely mention the pandemic, we must revisit how we view COVID-19-19. While loosening protocol may appear to increase infection rates, in many ways it will be able to provide a solution to our long-term problem.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • E

    EllaJan 19, 2024 at 10:30 pm

    Rather than changing policies in ways that could result in increased rates of infection (which not only means more people missing class hours but also danger for immunocompromised people), perhaps it would be better to advocate for a system that works with students and professors in the case that they are sick, COVID or otherwise. I know that being an undergrad college campus means that the majority of people at Carleton are younger and therefore less vulnerable to the worse effects of COVID, but that’s not a reason to neglect the adequate isolation periods required to prevent transmission, asymptomatic or otherwise.