Last semester went well. The only moment at which St. Olaf seemed near a genuine outbreak was a week towards the end of the semester. After adopting a more thorough testing scheme I advocated for in October, the College kept cases low.
There was a particular refrain that became popular to convince people to take COVID-19 guidelines seriously — it went more or less like this: “you don’t want to get sent home again, do you?” While getting sent home being the predominant worry about spreading a deadly respiratory virus is, I think, a pretty apt anecdote to describe the privilege of the St. Olaf campus, there was a useful immediacy to it. It was hard to fight with the logic. We were sent home before, it could happen again. For better or worse, there is nearly no chance we get sent home this semester.
For one thing, the vaccine is imminent. St. Olaf is likely going to be able to distribute the vaccine to students later in the semester but more importantly, the assisted living communities in Northfield have been vaccinated. The administration’s largest worry last semester was St. Olaf students being responsible for introducing or spreading COVID-19 to the assisted living communities, some of the highest risk people in the country. Now that the worry of students causing carnage in Northfield has been significantly diminished by the vaccine, the administration has little reason to expel students from Northfield in the case of an outbreak.
When the campus opened last semester, it was one of the first in the country. The way President David Anderson ‘74 responded to the off-campus party the day before the start of the year got nationwide news coverage. Whether or not colleges should open was a matter of public disagreement, and there was no model for public opinion if an outbreak were to occur.
Through the semester, however, many schools fielded massive outbreaks with nearly no consequences. The University of Notre Dame had 1,434 positive cases among undergraduates last semester. Nearly one in six Notre Dame undergraduates got COVID-19 that semester alone. Surely, the lack of public outcry at Notre Dame and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had very early and large outbreaks, set the tone for colleges around the country. The administration knows no number of COVID-19 cases would seriously damage St. Olaf’s reputation.
Likely being forced to remain on campus no matter how bad it gets is not the only indication we need to rely on each other. The administration’s data last semester indicated the vast majority of cases were spread via maskless social interactions and not in public areas like Stav or in classes. The administration, with this data and last semester’s relative success, has largely decided to rest on their laurels this semester. Despite having the capacity to conduct wastewater testing, the College elected not to. Our quarantine period this semester, while ultimately successful, was much shorter and less extreme.
The likely (and hopeful) situation is that this article will induce eye-rolls by the end of the semester. If people retain their diligence to prevent the spread of COVID-19 they had before, even with less attention and the new United Kingdom strain, we should be able to weather the storm.
Logan Graham ’22 is from Warrenville, Ill.
His major is philosophy.