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Spring 2022 COVID Update: Haverford Relaxes Protocols Amid Low Case Counts

In a February 17 email to faculty, staff, and students, Dean of the College John McKnight and College Vice-President Jesse Lytle announced the latest in a series of COVID-19 policy changes: notably, the update lifted prohibitions on parties and social gatherings, reaffirmed the COVID-19 screening testing as optional but recommended, updated isolation spaces, increased occupancy on indoor spaces, and tweaked mask-wearing guidelines. These changes come following the relatively low COVID-19 case count following students’ return from winter break. 

Additionally, multiple spaces on campus have updated their masking and capacity policies. The Dining Center has changed its policy to accommodate ‘open seating’ in the West Dining room and retained the 2-person per table set-up in the East dining room. Pairs of fully vaccinated students or staff meeting in shared workspaces that the policy designates “contained work areas”—like conference rooms and private labs—have the option to forgo masking if comfortable. According to its visitor policy, the college now permits outside visitors at athletic events and other public functions.

The lift on the social gathering ban came out the same day of a sudden uptick in active COVID 19 cases with a total of six active student cases, up to 12 on February 19, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. Readers should note that only two positive results were recorded on the dashboard during the 02/16/2022–02/22/2022 reporting period. At the beginning of the semester, the student positive test count peaked at 16 in the 1/19-1/25 reporting period. 

Students are encouraged to use their discretion when deciding to hold social gatherings, which are permitted after the rollback restrictions for in-person gatherings. McKnight and Lytle explain in a footnote of the policy that the administration “asks community members to avoid crowded, unmasked indoor social gatherings, which continue to lead to COVID-spreading events on other college campuses and in the world.”

For students, staff, and faculty, “snapshot” COVID-19 testing is no longer required until students return from Spring Break, the week of March 14. While faculty and staff can elect to “drop in” for testing, “employee snapshot testing has concluded” according to Lytle’s February 17 email update. 

In a February 1 email, McKnight and Lytle explained this decision: “we know that testing is helpful for knowing one’s status, but it does not prevent COVID transmission. Our other protocols (e.g. booster requirement, masking indoors) are the most effective strategies for lowering the risk of spread.” McKNight and Lytle still recommend testing, stating that it would help everyone “to feel reasonably confident that our excellent community-wide compliance with COVID protocols is mitigating COVID risk on campus.”

Haverford prepared isolation spaces for a possible increase in positive cases due to the Omicron variant despite the low case count. Haverford has 114 isolation spaces both on- and off-campus for the semester. As of February 3, only some of the 15 spaces in Whitehead Campus Center and the 20 spaces at 8 Railroad Avenue have been used, said Dean McKnight in an email to the Clerk. The college also has 23 isolation spaces at 500 Oakley Road, which formerly housed La Casa Hispánica, and 56 isolation spaces at the Hilton Garden Inn of Newtown Square. McKnight said that the spaces along Railroad Ave, likely faculty housing years ago, were anticipated to become student housing but have become useful as isolation spaces. Because of relatively low numbers, the college will likely release the Hilton spaces in the near future. 

Not for the first time since the new year, students have concerns about the school’s COVID policies. Haverford Students for a Democratic Society launched a petition asking the college to reconsider its updated COVID-19 policy. They are particularly concerned about the lack of mandatory testing for the next several weeks. 

“It feels as though this semester specifically, the college is changing the policy for the worse,” said SDS co-head Luka Austin ’24. Another SDS member—Aidan Hanig’ 25— stresses the importance of mandatory testing as part of the school’s COVID mitigation strategy. “Even if snapshot testing doesn’t 100% prevent campus transmission, it does reassure the student base about the numbers,” Hanig explained. “Last semester was a perfect example of them ultimately doing it right,” referring to the college’s previous bi-weekly student testing requirement.

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