For a blissful week and a half on campus, it seems like things were back to a new normal — students walking from class to class on The Green, a crowd full of students at the Twilight Induction Ceremony and student centers bustling with excited students.
That beautiful bubble, however, burst midway through the second week of classes. On Sept. 9, the university reached a record high of 136 positive COVID-19 cases in one day. In that same week, it also hit a weekly high of 376 positive cases.
These numbers shocked the university community, as the vast majority of students on campus, 91%, are fully vaccinated.
The university took a commendable and necessary step this past summer in mandating vaccinations for all students on campus and requiring masks to be worn in all university buildings. At this point, however, those mandates alone are not enough to protect students and the surrounding Newark community.
The university’s testing program is insufficient. Currently, only unvaccinated students and employees are required to be tested weekly. Though vaccinated students are at a much lower risk of contracting the virus, the university should expand its testing program to include all students to monitor the spread of COVID-19 on campus. At the very least, the university should do surveillance testing, as they did for off-campus students in the Spring of 2021, if not weekly testing for all students.
The university does allow any student who wants to get tested to do so. However, students have little incentive to get themselves tested without being told to do so. Receiving a positive test for a student would mean missing all their classes, having to tell all their close contacts that they have tested positive and potentially being sent home to quarantine for two weeks.
The university needs to mandate testing for students so that they have no choice but to know their status with COVID-19 and to take the necessary steps afterward.
Similarly, the university’s enforcement of the mask mandate on campus is spotty. Many professors are taking it upon themselves to enforce proper mask-wearing in the classroom, but the student centers are a different story. Students are allowed to take off their masks in the student centers to eat and drink, understandably, but this has led to unworn masks to be the norm in these spaces.
Either the university needs to enforce the mask mandate in the student centers or accept this reality but implement better contact tracing procedures to see how COVID-19 is spreading there. The university could place QR codes in the student center to keep a record of who was sitting where for contact tracing purposes.
No one wants the campus to shut down again. But students shouldn’t have to live with the constant anxieties regarding COVID-19.
The university is at a critical point. They can choose to keep plowing forward, turning a blind eye to rising COVID-19 cases and blaming the spread on students’ off-campus behavior. Or, they could take it upon themselves to expand their testing and tracing programs to help curb the spread before it gets even worse.
Students’ health is on the line, and the choice to protect it is the university’s.
The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Tara Lennon, development officer. She may be reached at email@example.com.