At 8:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Apr. 5, the Muhlenberg community received an email that there has been a surge in COVID cases in the past two weeks. This surge has resulted in the College making the decision to return to the Yellow Phase of the masking policy, which began on Apr. 6. This phase requires masks indoors except when actively eating and drinking and gives discretion to faculty and staff members in classroom settings and private offices. Masks are not required in residence halls, and the email states that there is “Some flexibility with regard to meetings as well as rehearsals and performances for student clubs and organizations.”
Dean of Students Allison Williams shared, “Since Friday, there have been 15 new cases of COVID-19 among students and three new cases among faculty and staff.”
Many students have shared frustrations that the College ever moved to the Green Phase, which allowed for flexible masking at the discretion of each individual and of faculty members in classroom settings. There was heightened concern surrounding the decision to move to the Green Phase just prior to spring break.
“We shouldn’t be moving back into the Yellow Phase because we never should have left it in the first place,” expressed Marissa Scharf ‘24.
Emily Burns ‘22 shared, “I have yet to fully grasp the College’s reasoning as to why we didn’t move to the Yellow Phase right when students returned to campus after traveling elsewhere for spring break, which could have potentially prevented this outbreak.”
“We shouldn’t be moving back into the Yellow Phase because we never should have left it in the first place”
Asher Clissold ‘22 echoed similar sentiments, saying, “It was silly, very silly, of the school to repeal the masking mandate in the first place, especially around the time of spring break and St. Patrick’s Day, considering those are high volume, for travel, for parties. And those kinds of things obviously lead to higher rates of cross contamination.”
A major point of concern, which has frustrated students since the beginning of the semester, is the lack of available testing. The email sent to students explicitly stated that, “Free COVID-19 tests are still available to all students at the Health Center and at the Student Information Desk in Seegers Union.”
Eitan Gitlin ‘25 went to the Student Information Desk just after receiving this email and said, “The school should give out more free tests. In the email they said that they were going to give out free tests. I don’t know if it starts tomorrow, but I went and they don’t have any.”
“The school should give out more free tests. In the email they said that they were going to give out free tests. I don’t know if it starts tomorrow, but I went and they don’t have any.”
The Weekly confirmed that no tests were available at the Student Information Desk at the time the email was sent out.
Overall, students seem satisfied with the decision to shift back to the Yellow Phase amidst rising cases. Clissold shared, “I’m glad they’re putting the masking policy back, because we are seeing an uptick in cases… We could have prevented this from happening if they kept the masking mandate here in the first place. But they didn’t around a time like spring break. I think it was kind of ignorant.”
Alex Wagner ‘22, Rylee Hooftallen ‘22 and Scharf all expressed a belief that the College should stick to one masking policy to prevent confusion.
Wagner said, “I feel like the school should just stick to one policy, one phase and just stick through it because if we go back and forth between policies it’s gonna really frustrate a lot of people, and a lot of people are going to be confused and it’s going to cause even more skepticism of the pandemic, of COVID, of vaccines… I feel like the school should just stick to one, own their decision and follow through. That’s the best they can do right now.”
“Their wishy-washy stance on masking protocols delegitimizes any and all mask mandates moving forward. I’m feeling very frustrated right now,” said Scharf.
Hooftallen added, “With the weather getting nicer, there’s been an uptick of people coming to visit our campus. And since we don’t have these masking policies, students are just walking around potentially infecting potential students and then potential students are also infecting us because we are all unmasked just walking around.”
Anna Riordan ‘23 said, “I’m not surprised about the uptick in cases following spring break and just more activities on campus. I’m glad they’re listening to the data, to the science, to protect students.”
Gitlin shared his thoughts on the shift, saying, “I thought it was a smart choice. I know in the last weekend I’ve had a lot of people that I know test positive for COVID, and I think especially with going home for the holidays—both Easter and Passover—it was the right choice especially for people who have to travel far distances.”
Megan Lyttle ‘23 said, “I hope that students continue to be safe and conscientious and that it truly does not get worse.”
“While the Lehigh Valley area was looking better these past few weeks, Muhlenberg failed to remember that we are a part of a larger, global community,” shared Scharf. “The BA.2 variant has been wreaking havoc in Germany, Denmark, China, and in other countries across the world. Clearly, it was inevitable that it would reach us here in the U.S. Their negligence regarding this variant has been disappointing, disheartening and dangerous.”