By Aliyah Siddiqui and Lucas Vacco
According to the Fall 2021 Covid-19 Dashboard, 28 students have tested positive for Covid-19 since Sept. 7, as of Sept. 21. The College has a number of guidelines for keeping students safe, including mandating wearing masks indoors and requiring unvaccinated people to be tested twice weekly and complete a daily self-checkup. Since Sept. 15, tests are now offered on campus for asymptomatic vaccinated students who believe they were exposed, according to an email from President Foster.
According to covid19.nj.gov, the rate of transmission (Rt) for Covid-19 is 1.06 as of Sept. 21, so cases are still rising statewide, on average. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the Delta variant of Covid-19 is more transmissible than previous strains, becoming the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the U.S. However, according to the CDC, unvaccinated people are still the primary concern for Delta infections.
Students express that even though there has been a rise in Covid-19 cases, they still feel assured that the College has prioritized their safety.
Junior mathematics major Meg Gohil said that when it comes to the College handling the pandemic, he feels safe and doesn’t believe the positivity rate is cause for concern. However, Gohil said students should still be wearing masks where they are required, such as indoor buildings on campus. Because of these mask mandates, senior urban elementary education and sociology major Sreenidhi Viswanathan said she feels more protected from contracting Covid-19.
“I do feel much safer having masks worn indoors. I live with my parents who are immunocompromised. Although all of us are vaccinated, it gives me a bit more assurance and safety when engaging in in-person classes. Wearing our masks is an act of love for those within our community who may be at higher risk for Covid,” Viswanathan said.
While some students, like freshman biochemistry major Yaa Serwah Awuah, are comfortable attending class with masks on amidst the rise in cases, other students are still worried about safety in the classrooms. One area of concern for freshman political science major Amelia Laubsch regards the lack of distance in classrooms.
“I think the biggest cause of my discomfort is how close everyone is to one another. In classes of 30 plus kids, I understand it is hard to spread out, but I don't even think the three-foot rule is followed. In one of my classes, I wear my hair up because otherwise it would be on the desk of the person behind me. There is minimal distance between people and it's concerning,” Laubsch said.
Another area of concern for students is the method in which the College disseminates information. Since the start of the semester, the College has often sent long emails regarding safety protocol and updates to the current guidelines. While both Awuah and Laubsch said the College is effective in providing information, they agree that emails may not be the best way to reach students.
“The College is not bad at providing information, but they can do better,” Awuah said. “They send a whole bunch of emails and not everybody reads or has the time to read the entire thing, which makes them miss out on certain important information.”
Laubsch also advocates for alternatives to the traditional emails to help reinforce the message to students who may be unaware of major policies or changes.
“Having teachers take two minutes to mention a new guideline implemented in class, or having a text go out might be helpful at reaching more people,” Laubsch said.
Dr. Leigh-Anne Francis, associate professor in the Department of African American Studies and Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, agrees that there should be alternatives to long emails like social media posts or Covid-19 alerts to make people aware of the amount of cases on campus aside from the Covid-19 dashboard, which she only recently discovered. She also said she supports the indoor mask mandate until the pandemic is over.
“There’s always some level of concern being inside with a classroom full of people during a pandemic, especially now that there’s a highly contagious variant of Covid-19 out there. With that said, I want to emphasize TCNJ’s indoor mask policy is vital as long as we are living during a pandemic,” Francis said.
Francis also said it is important to maintain in-person learning and an open campus, despite the pandemic and safety concerns.
“I understand the urgent need of in-person programming and in-person classroom instruction. There are many factors, emotional health of students, the intellectual vibrancy of the community and building a sense of community and financial well-being of the institution,” Francis said. “I love my job, and I know students that love the school and faculty and staff that love their jobs too and need their job and it’s something we have to understand.”