By Zach Neville ’23 (he/him)
If Davidson wants to claim that we have a caring community, then the administration should display more care in its response to the unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases on campus. It wouldn’t be hard, but it would look a bit different from the current approach. Care means transparency, clear and informative communication, and a commitment to suspending potentially dangerous close-contact situations until cases decrease significantly. I appreciate the work that has gone into the existing COVID-19 infrastructure, and I recognize our individual responsibility to follow safety guidelines. That said, the administration cannot continue excusing itself from displaying the same level of commitment as it asks of us.
A caring community requires proactive and consistent channels of communication. Davidson has instead chosen not to share easily publicized information that anyone spending time on campus deserves to know. How many students are in quarantine? Exactly how many rooms are available? How many cases would it take for Davidson to consider sending students home? What is the specific procedure for contact tracing, and how many COVID-positive students were not identified by that process before testing positive? What does the disciplinary process for COVID protocol infractions look like, and what determines the severity of consequences? How does the college’s approach to this semester differ at all from its approach to the last? How, exactly, does the school decide which activities are safe and unsafe? Even after reading Davidson’s FAQ webpage, I’m still confused.
I could go on about the crucial questions to which we have no answers, but my point is this: Davidson College has a moral and logistical responsibility to communicate more of its data and procedural methods to the community. One instance of the school’s failure to fulfill this responsibility came with the decision not to publish COVID cases registered during winter break until the first day of the new semester. According to the new COVID-19 Dashboard, the college had identified 11 active cases on campus by January 25th. What good reason is there for withholding information that might have made the difference between the decision to return for the spring semester or to stay off campus?
What we have right now are vague and infrequent emails emphasizing individual responsibility. Though valuable, their message begins to sound patronizing when those who follow guidelines closely are still at greater risk of contracting COVID than ever before. Is there really nothing more to include in these emails besides a message that some students have continuously chosen to ignore? Increased transparency would allow for more informed decision making and give a stronger impression that we are, in fact, all in this together.
There are a few things that we can piece together despite sparse communication from the administration. Most importantly, we know that the college still does not consider maskless indoor dining at Commons to be a big enough risk to suspend during the current outbreak. The reasoning behind this decision appears circular and, like many other decisions, vague.
A February 2 email from the Student Government Association reiterated the college’s position on Commons dining: “Based on experience from this semester and last semester… dine-in at dining facilities [has] not been a source of community transmission.” I hope this to be the case, but on what evidence is Davidson basing it? Multiple students quarantining with COVID-19 have stated that, during contact tracing, they had offered the names of those they had sat with inside Commons as recent contacts. These students were told that these contacts “did not count” and, as a result, their names were not recorded. If this is true, and Commons contacts are not recorded when contract tracing, what “experience” can Davidson show us that suggests indoor dining is a risk worth taking?
Even though the majority of cases stem from students breaking protocol, Davidson cannot throw up its hands and neglect the steps it could take to mitigate the consequences. We just can’t afford to be that passive. The worst-case scenario of contracting COVID for immunocompromised staff and students is not just an inconvenience. Serious illness or worse is a very real possibility for many, and the urgency of the college’s response must reflect this. We all need to begin thinking about this semester as a different situation from the fall; how confident of a precedent could last semester have set for a semester that reached roughly three times the active cases? If I’m proven wrong in these concerns, I’ll be happier than if I weren’t.
Cases will hopefully begin to go down in the next week as those in quarantine are released. I still strongly encourage Davidson to exhibit care by sharing as much of its data and procedures as it can with the entire community. We’re on the right track, but a simple “do your part” isn’t enough anymore.
Zach Neville (he/him) is an undeclared Sophomore from Washington, D.C. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org