University must be mindful as COVID-19 protocols ease
On March 7, the University amended its COVID-19 health and safety regulations as cases and hospitalization waned in the state of Massachusetts. As a part of the new rules, Brandeis now requires students only to be tested once a week, given they are fully vaccinated, and faculty and staff are no longer required to be tested.
The board questions the rationale behind the University’s decision to ease restrictions so quickly. Although both federal and state health officials have recommended the ease of the restrictions, many experts in the field oppose the decision. We question whether the decision to lift restrictions was made in consultation with the community members. The Brandeis community has mostly kept COVID-19 cases at a considerably lower rate than other universities in the area. However, we believe cases have been low because of tight restrictions and question whether these low positivity rates are possible with lifted mask mandates and reduced testing. This board criticizes the University for its decision to lift the masking requirement and reduce testing simultaneously — changing two variables at once makes it impossible to attribute subsequent trends to one factor or the other. We also strongly encourage students, faculty, and staff to adhere to a more frequent testing schedule and masking whenever possible.
Additionally, this board wishes to address the contents of the March 10 email to the community from Shelby Harris, assistant vice president for student engagement and campus life, and Monique Pillow Gnanaratnam, dean of students. To our fellow students, we ask that you continue to take COVID-19 seriously and be honest with contact tracers. To the administration, we ask that you reflect on whether this increase in quarantine numbers is entirely because of irresponsible students and not at least partly because of the loosening of masking and testing requirements.
The administration also shut down the COVID-19 testing center in the Mandel Center for Humanities after operation on March 4 due to the reduced testing frequency. As a result, the number of student staff needed for maintaining the testing center was also reduced. The members of this board would like to raise the concern that many student workers can no longer work the same amount of hours as before, which leads to a loss of income. Many other students have been let go. This brings great loss to students who rely on their on-campus jobs to get by. Since community members would still benefit from frequent testing as masking requirements relax and many student workers rely on this testing center for wages, the board recommends that a secondary testing center be open.
According to the new rules, masking in classrooms is at the discretion of the instructor. Many professors have voiced their confusion and anxiety about the rules regarding masking in classrooms because the responsibility of making the masking rule now lies in the hands of the instructors, and not all professors are comfortable with this disciplinary responsibility. It is also almost impossible to enforce masking in large lecture halls. This board would like to call for professors to create anonymous polls to ask the class what their preference is about masking. Both teaching and learning during the pandemic are hard, and this board encourages both students and instructors to approach the masking conversation with respect and patience.
Students, faculty, and staff have thus far made great progress in our fight against COVID-19. We are simply asking the administration to act with mindfulness and caution while we transition to a new normal in the age of COVID-19.