An Endemic Problem

Amid the rising Covid cases, The Editorial Board proposes moderate policies that would provide students with resources to protect their health.

The recent rise of Covid has been a pressing issue at Amherst, and the college has been woefully inadequate at curbing its spread. The lack of transparency about infection rates has left students in the dark about the truth of the situation, yet its severity is evident: Nearly everyone knows someone who has gotten Covid recently (if they have not gotten Covid themselves).

Many of the Covid protocols from previous semesters were highly effective in illness management, yet they have since been dismantled and abandoned. The public-facing Covid dashboard has been inactive since June 2022, even though Covid cases are still being tracked internally through a self-report form. On-campus PCR testing has been shut down, replaced with frequently inaccurate rapid tests.

The current Covid protocols are negligent toward the realities of the climbing cases at Amherst: The Amherst College Police Department station and Keefe Campus Center are frequently out of Covid tests. To-go boxes are now available only to those who test positive for Covid, not people who are symptomatic, leading to a more crowded dining hall, ripe for transmission. Official alternatives to in-person classes have been inconsistently provided for Covid-positive students, thereby forcing people to choose between their health and their education. Some Covid cases have left students sleeping in their dorm common rooms without adequate housing to account for cases.

We understand that the college has taken cues from local, state, and federal policies, and that the   world has generally decided that Covid is “over.” As a result, Amherst’s response to Covid has largely fluctuated between two extremes: shifting from extreme diligence to now little regulation at all, with concern for its image at the forefront. Amherst’s response has undoubtedly reflected the public response to Covid, arguably above a desire to genuinely prevent infection. However, we aim to identify a reasonable middle ground that balances where students have the means to freely choose how to protect their health. To this end, we hope that Amherst can implement basic, common-sense measures to minimize transmission and best “protect the herd” — including all of its members, as current testing measures have failed to protect many in the student body.

We are advocating for more rapid tests available, as well as a return to optional PCR testing. We recognize that it is not feasible to require masks in classrooms, but with effective testing measures, Covid-conscious individuals can still use the available resources to protect themselves. Furthermore, we want reasonable accommodations made for Covid-positive students. No student should be sleeping on the floor of their common room or missing substantial amounts of class when they feel well enough to attend in-person. Virtual and hybrid options should be available for Covid-positive students to participate fully in class during their in-person absence. Furthermore, the dashboard should be reinstated to increase transparency between the administration and the student body about the real state of Covid at Amherst. The return of to-go boxes would also ameliorate the Covid situation by allowing Covid-conscious students and close-contacts to eat outside of Val.

Ultimately, we want tangible resources to support the health of our community members and their right to protect themselves in a way that they see fit. These suggested measures still hold weight beyond Covid — even during annual cold and flu season, a particularly strong strain can weaken the overall health of the campus community. Regardless of whether a sickness is Covid or not, nobody wants to be ill and spread that illness to their friends. By implementing these basic structural measures, Amherst can create lasting improvements for years to come.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 11; dissenting: 4; abstaining: 0).

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial included the claim, "Covid positive students are not provided with masks." The statement has been omitted due to ambiguity. KN95 masks have been available at official test distribution sites and, infrequently, other campus locations. Updated on Sept. 29 at 5:48 p.m.