The pandemic has created extensive physical separation between communities; however, as the Muhlenberg campus has patiently obliged to restrictions over the past two years, the community has actually come together in more ways than one.
Putting on a mask before starting a day’s worth of tasks has become second nature. It has become a necessary step in our routines in order to cautiously navigate the pandemic, all while attempting to carry-out seemingly unpausable lives. Many students who started their college careers in 2020 had not walked through the dining hall, conversed with classmates, or worked out in the gym without wearing a mask until recently. While wearing a mask is not always a comfortable choice, it has been a simple action that has gotten us through the pandemic.
The College has taken every appropriate measure to best protect our community since the onset of the pandemic, making adjustments as necessary and consistently to their policies in order to align with the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many members of the Muhlenberg community have learned that adhering to these restrictions are not only imperative for individual interests, but for the health and respect of others.
The CDC has recently updated its masking guidelines and introduced further tools to help aid individual decision making surrounding the pandemic. In response to this update by the CDC, the College has moved to a flexible indoor masking policy, made effective on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. The policy allows students and staff to choose whether or not they wear a mask in specific campus spaces. Some of those spaces include the dining hall, Seegers Union, residence halls and the Life Sports Center (LSC). This policy update sparked both controversial and supporting views from the student body, faculty and staff. Some believe that the policy change was rushed. Others are happy about the update and are holding onto the policy change as a beam of hope.
In particular, the LSC is a popular place for the student population. Many students spend multiple hours a week there, and when in season, student athletes practically live in the facility. Athletes and non-athletes alike have gotten used to such things as running and working out with a mask on while in the LSC. Although it may be uncomfortable, it was just one way to sustain use of the gym while avoiding the transmission of COVID-19. After almost two years of students using the space in accordance with the above restrictions and more, this flexible masking policy poses a “new” experience for visitors of the LSC and an “old” experience to those who knew what it was like prior to the pandemic.
Although the policy change may be a positive sign of moving forward through the pandemic, the virus is still present and many members of the community are weary of that. Two student employees of the LSC, who work at the front desk, have given their observations thus far.
“People are still coming to the front desk and asking for masks. I think people are still being vigilant about the issue regardless of the policy update,” said Sharoni Marcus ‘22.
“I still see some students wearing their masks in the LSC. However, I’ve also noticed that after the update more people are coming in,” said Anthony Merchlinsky ‘24
It is still expected that students are responsible enough to take necessary precautions when showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, but this new sense of freedom may have increased the hopefulness in many in regards to eventually returning to some sort of normalcy on campus.
A few frequent visitors have noted their outlooks on the policy update and the new environment that it has created in the LSC.
Ethan Brochin ‘25 adds, “Since the policy update has taken place, I personally feel more inclined to use the facility. I feel grateful that our campus is able to start moving forward.”
For some, the policy update has made taking the trip to the LSC more attractive.
“It is great to be moving in a positive direction in accordance with the CDC guidelines. I think that not having to wear a mask while inside the LSC, specifically, has not only made a big difference in the experience of going there but more so–the actual physicality of working out inside,” said Ryan May ‘24.
Frequent users of the gym seem to be hopeful about this specific location being mask free. The flexible masking policy gives freedom to choose when and where you feel that a mask is appropriate. Paige Addis ‘24 notes, “I was happy to oblige by all of the previous restrictions that the school put in place. However, it’s definitely nice to be working back towards normalcy especially in the LSC.”
It has not been easy for any institution to navigate the pandemic while trying to provide for a “normal” college experience and simultaneously keep the community as safe as possible. In fact, when dealing with a global pandemic, normalcy is not usually the priority, leaving the Muhlenberg community to ask if this policy update will last.