On May 4, all Carleton students, faculty and staff received an email from the COVID-19 Core Team, reading as follows: “Over the past several days, we have seen an uptick in the number of cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff. This trend of increased cases is beginning to put strain on some campus operations, including isolation space. As a result, our campus alert level is now medium.”
As detailed in the email, the raising of the alert level to medium resulted in the implementation of a new mask mandate to reduce spreading within campus. Starting May 4 at 10 p.m., students must once again wear a mask in all indoor settings, except for student’s own residence hall rooms or house. No “additional restrictions are in place at this time, and in-person events and dining may continue as usual,” as was stated in the campus-wide announcement.
Unlike Winter Term, which began with a medium alert level, Spring Term saw baseline testing while remaining at a low alert level. Spring Term also brought new changes to the decision-making framework. In a campus-wide email at the beginning of the term, the COVID-19 Core Team outlined new ways of deciding alert levels: “We are moving away from making decisions based on the campus positive rate, and instead will follow case trends and implement strategies based on the impact those trends are having on campus operations.”
However, the new framework does not mean the alert level will remain constant when cases rise. As of May 6, the College has seen more than 80 cases detected in the past week. Of those, 34 cases were found on May 4, when the announcement was made.
PCR surveillance testing was also discontinued as part of the new decision-making framework, leaving on-demand rapid testing as the sole remaining testing operation on campus. This means only students who are deemed close contacts of positive cases are asked to test continuously, while other students who are experiencing symptoms may elect to do so. A close contact, however, was redefined by President Byerly on a May 5 email: “Close contacts are identified as roommates, housemates/suitemates, and intimate partners”.
As of now, there is no testing requirement for asymptomatic non-close-contacted students, nor is there a requirement for student-athletes, who underwent strict testing through the Winter and Fall Terms.
Although the new alert level does not come at a surprise to students, it was still not received favorably by some. An anonymous student, whose roommate tested positive, felt that the measures were unnecessary. “To be honest, I think at some point we need to move on; we can’t be locking people up for 10 days because of a cold.”
Several other students expressed similar sentiments, including one who pointed to the inconsistency in dealing with other infectious diseases. “For the last week, a lot of people have been sick — people are coughing and feeling crummy, but generally it’s been okay,” said Zak Sather ’23. “But once people test positive [for COVID-19], it’s suddenly not okay.”
Another student was bothered by the fact that masks are not required anywhere other than campus. “Forcing everyone to wear masks yet again seems ridiculous and unnecessary. I cannot name a single place that still requires them, including airports.”
On the other hand, some other students feel that the measures are appropriate. “I think that if the cases are going back up, then the safest bet is to go back to masking, as much as it is bothersome,” said Natalie Lafferty ’22, who tested positive earlier this week. “[The measures are necessary] to keep the most people safe”.
Daily case counts, alert level and other information will continue to be available on the COVID-19 Dashboard.