Students Reflect on Univ.’s recent COVID-19 Response
Students expressed frustration about the lack of transparency of COVID-19 cases, amongst other concerns.
On Sept. 9, the University administration sent an email to inform the Brandeis community of the University’s shift from a yellow to a green COVID-19 Status Level. This email was sent by Carol Fierke, Stew Uretsky, and Andrea Dine, who hold the positions of provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs, executive vice president of Finance and Administration, and interim vice president for Student Affairs, respectively.
For the 2022-2023 academic year, the University has adopted a color-coded COVID-19 Status Level system which sets restrictions of varying intensity on campus life by classifying the community’s status as either green, yellow, orange, or red based on the severity of the institution’s COVID-19 numbers. The University began the year with a yellow status, meaning that campus was relatively open with a few key restrictions. Masks were mostly optional, with the exception of classrooms, indoor performances, University transportation, and gatherings of more than twenty attendees, where masking was required. The yellow status placed no restrictions on gathering size, travel, dining, or work, and rapid testing was available free of cost at the Health Center for students who had symptoms or were exposed to COVID-19. The University’s shift to a green status allows for slightly fewer masking restrictions, with masking required in classes, unless the professor states otherwise, on Brandeis transportation, and in any location where a masking requirement is posted.
Fierke, Uretsky, and Dine indicated in their email that they do not take the shift to a green COVID-19 Status lightly. While they do recognize that the pandemic remains a significant characteristic of campus life, they state in the same email that “our community’s near total vaccination rate and low rates of community transmission have given us the confidence to make this adjustment at this time.”
Fierke, Uretsky, and Dine acknowledge that this change is likely not permanent, as travel increases during holiday breaks and a decrease in temperature will probably increase the spread of disease. “Our community should be prepared to see a return to more precautions if case rates follow previous trends,” they wrote in the email. But for now, the severity of COVID-19 at the University appears to have remained largely the same since Sept. 9, since the COVID-19 status has remained green.
The administration’s decision to change from a yellow to green status seems to have received mixed reactions from University students. Lily Roth ’25 feels that this shift makes sense, as an increased vaccination rate is causing fewer students to be at risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Rachel Batsevitsky ’25, however, feels differently about the change. “I think the reason numbers are going down is because we aren’t required to test anymore,” she said. While students do not necessarily share feelings about the status change, they seem to share the observation that despite the shift, they don’t feel as though case numbers have changed since the beginning of the semester. “Because the status change didn’t change very many restrictions, I don’t think [it] made much of a difference,” Julianna Schweitzer ’25 said.
Despite a general feeling among students that COVID-19 numbers have remained relatively steady this semester, most students share that they are unsure of the University’s exact COVID-19 numbers, and they call on administration to make these numbers more accessible to the public. “I don’t feel like Brandeis adequately reports COVID-19 numbers. I am a data-oriented person, so I wish that the COVID-19 numbers given were solid,” said Keren Bobilev ’24. Schweitzer shared a similar frustration, and also raised the point that “if people test positive and don’t report it, which I’m sure people have done, that also skews the numbers. Last year it automatically went into the system, but now it doesn’t.” This lack of knowledge may also contribute to students’ mixed feelings on the status change. When the facts are unclear, it can be difficult to form an opinion about the administration’s response.
While students are frustrated by this lack of information, they do report that the administration has successfully made them aware of its COVID-19 policies. Both Roth and Bobilev shared that the University’s emails after each policy update have been particularly helpful in keeping them informed. In addition to their emails, administration required all students to complete a COVID-19 training prior to the start of the year and keeps up-to-date information about all of the statuses and what each of them mean readily available on its website.
Overall, the administration’s response to the pandemic has caused varying feelings of safety among students. Roth states that the University’s COVID-19 policies do make her feel safer. After having contracted COVID-19 toward the beginning of the semester, she shared, “I feel like they [provide] help with COVID-19 when needed.” Bobilev, however, feels quite differently. “When I go to my classes that have over 200 members, I see lots of people without masks, without the safety net of having solid numbers and consistent testing to show Brandeis’ COVID-19 numbers. Even though COVID-19 testing was inconvenient most of the time, it still provided a comfort in the solid statistics and what to look out for,” they shared. Students hope that going forward, administration can continue keeping the Brandeis community updated on COVID-19 policies while also making both numbers and testing more accessible to create a safer community for all.