With new regulations allowing students to unmask essentially everywhere on campus except in academic settings, it’s time to bring back mandatory testing as we had it in the fall. Haverford students and staff cannot accurately gauge the risk of contracting COVID-19 without a clear measure of how many cases there are on campus. The email drastically loosening COVID-19 restrictions from Vice President Jesse Lytle on Feb. 17 began, “With data indicating a continued downward trend of COVID infections on campus […]”. Readers could be forgiven for asking, “what data?”
Indeed, the way that the virus spread on campus before spring break told a completely different story. The lack of mandatory testing, along with the arrival of the Omicron variant, left Haverford without a way to detect upswings in the number of COVID-19 cases until it became a major problem, as the College reached 87 known cases among students at its peak (over 6% of the entire student body). If the new, more relaxed policies around masking will bring about another increase in cases–as they very easily could–that will be hard to measure at first without mandatory testing.
Furthermore, universal mandatory testing in the two weeks after spring break made many students feel safer regarding COVID-19 and provided them with the information they needed to make good choices. While a revival of mandatory testing doesn’t need to be this expansive, a return to the system used in the fall would also help safeguard students without being too burdensome. Many students are in favor of mandatory testing. If Haverford worries that students feel that there are too many restrictions, they can look at the several petitions that students have started in attempts to reinstate mandatory testing, all of which have garnered broad support.
In the initial email, Lytle said, “We are moving in this direction because we know that testing is helpful for knowing one’s status, but it does not prevent COVID transmission.” How does a student and the College knowing that they have COVID-19 not help prevent COVID-19 transmission? Knowing that a student has COVID-19 allows the College to move them into isolation, away from others to whom they could spread it.
As we saw this spring, it takes only a small number of cases to balloon into many. The administration has responded to criticism over the lack of mandatory testing by saying that optional testing is still available, but this does not give the same amount of information on the state of COVID-19 at Haverford that mandatory testing would. We are so close to being out of the pandemic. Now is not the time to lift our guard.