Augie’s new COVID policies provide optimism, but we still need to be cautious

Kyle King

As of Feb. 14, Augie’s prior restrictions on the size of group gatherings, student clubs, organizations and visitors at admissions or athletic events have been lifted. 

The official email sent out to students and faculty also said, “if conditions change for the better or worse, adjustments to campus guidelines likely will change.” 

Another change that has developed since the beginning of the spring semester is the use of the AC Health app instead of Campus Clear. The apps have been required for entry into the dining hall, and AC Health appears to be an improvement over Campus Clear.

Campus Clear provided a daily survey question asking students to select an option evaluating their symptoms and proximity to those who tested positive. Students could pick whatever option they see fit, and it is entirely plausible that individuals showing symptoms would select the choice that indicated showing no symptoms, which would not restrict them from eating in the dining hall with hundreds of others.

AC Health, while much simpler to use, is in theory more effective since it takes into account the student’s completed self-reported vaccination status that was submitted via the Augustana Strong portal. This removes the redundant daily survey question and uses a more permanent measurement.

This better moderation incentivizes those who have not registered vaccinations to receive the mandatory weekly community testing; otherwise those students cannot dine in the Gerber Center or even attend class. The class aspect was fairly emphasized in the first week of the semester as students returning to campus were required to submit a negative test unless they were vaccinated.

While it is reassuring to know that zero new positive cases emerged from required on-campus student and employee testing during the week of February 7-13, it is common sense that the campus community needs to remain cautious so that no new restrictions will be made.

The Rock Island County Health Department, for instance, has reported 290 new COVID-19 cases in the past week.

The Augie COVID Dashboard also indicates that about 150 of the 2,300 students registered for spring semester are not fully vaccinated (in this case referring to two doses of Moderna/Pfizer or one dose of Johnson and Johnson). About 75 percent of students are up-to-date, meaning that they have received additional boosters. 

The lifted restrictions also come amidst the chaotic stretches of rushing and pledging for those involved in Greek Life. These processes involve great amounts of interaction in spaces, and some groups may hold gatherings at off-campus sites, entailing that they may not fall under the pressures of mask policies.

Leniency can also be contextualized by a new wave of school districts across the country. Connecting to Illinois once again, WGN notes how Illinois school districts are no longer required to mandate masks for their students, according to a court ruling. 

Governor Pritzker earlier this month announced that by the end of February, he will lift the requirement for face coverings in some indoor locations, but wanted to keep it in effect for K-12 schools.

How this promise translates to college campuses like Augie may be uncertain, but that does not necessarily mean we can ease off the gas and make a rapid transition into ‘normalcy’ or carelessness.

We, as a community, still must respect the students and faculty around us and promote a safe and healthy environment so that everyone can have equal opportunities to succeed.