Colleges in Massachusetts have a shockingly low COVID-19 positivity rate, which has caught the eye of health officials. Universities in the Northeast have set great examples of what a hybrid campus should look like, but we can’t assume they have reached the pinnacle of COVID-19 regulation.
Officials and residents — particularly in Boston — had initially voiced concerns that college students would cause a spike in coronavirus cases. We were the harmful, invasive species coming to wreak havoc on their communities.
However, Boston did not see the expected rise in numbers everyone feared upon students’ arrival in September. Group interactions among students have spurred spikes in cases on campus after move-in, although as COVID-19 fatigue sets in, the wider residential community is also contributing to COVID-19 cases in ways similar to college students.
But for a college town as densely populated as Boston, we have largely performed better than other areas of the country. Boston University and Northeastern University’s strict guidelines helped them make it through the first few weeks of classes without a high number of cases, unlike schools such as the University of Alabama and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, which had major outbreaks early on in the school year.
BU’s rigorous testing system, paired with strong peer pressure among classmates to remain responsible during the pandemic, has worked to ensure a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and a 0.1-percent total positivity rate.
So, we’ve managed to remain on track to finish the semester with students still living on campus. Can we consider this a pandemic miracle? Is BU a success story?
Well, we must continue to realize that our standards for success and excellence are honestly very low. We can always ask our University to improve its tactics, even if it’s already doing an above-average job.
Back in March, we were unsure whether we would even come back to campus in the Fall, let alone make it through November without a major outbreak. BU proved it could stay open, and that in itself is a victory.
We also have to take into consideration how large our university is. A school the size of BU — albeit with a reduced number of students and faculty on campus — was able to effectively keep students in dorms while other campuses across the country and of similar size could not do the same.
BU stacks up well against other schools, even in the Boston area. BU has the money — approximately $70 million — to spend on COVID-19 testing infrastructure, and due to lack of federal aid, smaller state schools don’t have that luxury. So, of course, BU is a standout compared to other institutions.
But the argument of whether or not BU had a successful reopening is entirely subjective. All of the University’s praise must be accompanied by encouragement to do better next semester.
We have a running list of COVID-19 regulations BU can improve upon. This semester was a trial run, and while it was not entirely bad on the COVID-19 front, it’s unproductive to assume this is as good as it gets.
The majority of students returning to campus wanted some semblance of normalcy. We wanted peace away from home, even if that meant getting tested twice a week with the constant threat of being sent into isolation housing should we test positive with COVID-19.
Several freshmen have returned home after arriving on campus because they felt isolated and lonely. Students have been sitting in their dorms for hours each day staring at their computer screens. Even our intense isolation couldn’t keep the spread of the virus at bay. Was that the experience we were all hoping for?
Everyone has to come to terms with reality and adapt to life in a pandemic. We have to carefully balance the risk of exposure with having the fun experiences we want, and it’s an easy line to cross.
For some, the risk of coming back to campus was worth it. For others, the anxiety around COVID-19 and extreme restrictions on our social life wasn’t.
Such a regulated social life had clear negative impacts. And despite sounding counterintuitive, so did our consistent testing.
Students who live on campus get tested twice a week, which is why BU has been so successful this semester — you always know the status of your health. However, if in some utopian world Massachusetts were able to adopt this testing style, we might see the negative aspects more clearly.
Constant testing presents the risk of giving everyone a false sense of security. You may think you are free of COVID-19 if you are getting tested every few days, but you easily forget that you could be asymptomatic and spreading the virus in between test results. People then feel more comfortable hanging out with different friends and leaving their homes when they should be keeping to themselves.
Testing has never been the cure to COVID-19, but simply a way for us to track it.
We need more testing education and a larger emphasis on how the virus spreads. We need stricter enforcement of regulations, better testing accommodations for instructors and improved avenues for students to safely socialize on campus.
BU didn’t fail this semester just because we have these demands — we are calling on the school to do better despite its achievements. The University’s successes cannot be the sole model for the state’s actions. Take our lead, but learn from our mistakes.