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Old Gold & Black

It Takes A Group Effort

There+were+some+concerns+over+social+distancing+expressed+about+the+Mr.+Wofford+event+in+the+fall.+Photo+by+Mark+Olencki.
There were some concerns over social distancing expressed about the Mr. Wofford event in the fall. Photo by Mark Olencki.

Some thoughts on COVID-19 rules and their effectiveness

As students return to their schools for the spring semester, lots of support and criticism follows the COVID-19 guidelines they are expected to adhere to.

Wofford is no exception, of course. On December 22, 2020, Roberta Hurley, vice president and dean of students, e-mailed out a set of guidelines with four levels of alert that applies to the spring 2021 semester. This new tiered set of rules stirred some controversy among the student body, especially the note in Dean Hurley’s e-mail that the college will remain on Level 4 (High Alert) until at least January 17.

From a personal standpoint, I felt as though much of this controversy was unnecessary. The email stated that the leading causes of COVID-19 spread during the fall 2020 semester were off-campus gatherings and unauthorized parties.

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However, I noticed that the leading complaint students expressed was derived from a desire to continue partying, which led to a heated discussion amongst some students in the Wofford ’23 GroupMe chat, with some students claiming they intended to party anyway, or that they’d contracted the virus during the fall and were no longer worried about it.

I have felt from the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year that many COVID-19 guidelines are necessary and that student and staff adherence to those rules directly impacts our college experience. Though I know the main reason students want to continue partying and creating gatherings is to hold on to their college experiences, an outbreak of the virus could send us all home and provide us with less of a college experience than we would have had otherwise.

The main message I want to bring home is this: compared to many other colleges (and definitely compared to high schools), Wofford’s COVID-19 guidelines are relatively lenient. Multiple colleges in North and South Carolina require weekly testing for the virus, if the students are allowed to return to in-person classes at all.

Wofford’s form of “testing” requires only that students fill out a daily COVID-19 tracking form online, which consists of four multiple-choice questions, one asking students to check their temperature with thermometers they were provided at the beginning of the fall semester. I found I was able to fill it out every morning last semester in about one minute on my phone.

As I am from Asheville, North Carolina, I heard a lot about the Buncombe County School System and the conflict surrounding their COVID-19 guidelines this school year. Students at T.C. Roberson High School, where I attended, were on Zoom most of the fall semester, and do not return to campus until January 18. It was hard not to compare the strictness of their rules with Wofford’s, especially involving testing.

I asked one student who is currently a senior at the high school how he felt about the guidelines. “They’re just around where they need to be in my opinion,” he stated. “I wasn’t in school for a long time before I went virtual because of the lack of efficiency, but while I was there everything was well enforced. Temperature scans at each entrance, 2m markers everywhere, etc., and I was pleasantly surprised. I think they were about right [not too strict or lenient].”

He also had positive things to say about the student body response, noting that some students felt as though the rules could be even more stringent. “Most of the people that I talked to were pretty indifferent about it. I think the adaptation that they showed was pretty good. There’s a complaint or two regarding having to be in school at all, but otherwise people have carried on for the most part.”

One parent of a junior at the high school was not impressed by the virtual semester. “Buncombe County Schools eventually did the right thing for students, but the original plan of virtual only for high school students was inappropriate. Parents that wanted their kids to be virtual only had that option, but parents that want an in-person option deserve that, too, particularly for kids with [special needs].”

In addition, she spoke on the vaccine. “I also am in total support of offering vaccines to all staff as soon as possible.”

A teacher at Avery’s Creek Elementary School, a school in the T.C. Roberson district, had some thoughts on how COVID-19 guidelines have impacted her job. “Overall I felt they have done a decent job. They have adjusted things when they were not working… [and] I feel they are doing a good job of cleaning like they have said.”

However, she elaborated on some struggles with teaching children during the pandemic. “Once the kids came in face-to-face, there were some issues. We have to take the temperatures of kids in the car-rider line… [but] now when it’s cold, the thermometers do not work at all.”

“Keeping kids away from each other, especially little kids, is difficult and sometimes impossible… the part that is irritating is if a kid is positive with COVID, the contact tracing takes forever. We never know. That has been frustrating. One of the biggest things that annoys me is that kids eat in the rooms and teachers eat with them, so masks are off for extended time.”

She also spoke about the school not modifying the academic rigor. “It is also annoying that they are treating school like normal. More professional development, more assessments, keep it rigorous… target those kids that are falling behind. They are treating school like it is normal and not making the adjustments. These kids are torn in so many directions… we need to back off.”

One thing I notice in common with these three people’s statements is the desire to have school in person, but not without limitations. This is a view I share, which is why I support following guidelines the best we can to ensure we get to stay in-person.

We are fortunate that, as a college, we struggle less to physically distance than younger kids who are limited to a school building. I feel as though our guidelines allow for us to still experience most of a normal college experience, subtracting only indoor parties and large gatherings.

I do feel that one rule that could be loosened, but will soon, is the prohibition of visitors in dorm rooms. During the fall semester, the people I allowed in my room were always people I had eaten meals with or spent time in a car with, where COVID-19 would’ve spread much more easily than in a dorm if any of us had contracted it. However, neither of these things can be prohibited.

Overall, I think it is time for students to step back and understand that the guidelines are necessary for us to stay safely on campus, and the strictest of them will most likely be lifted before the end of January.

I also encourage students to not be afraid to report students they feel are putting others in danger with COVID-19-spreading behavior. We all deserve a safe and successful semester, and I believe there is nothing wrong with expecting respect from your peers. One available resource is the Silent Witness form, which can be used for any on-campus incident and can be accessed at: https://www.wofford.edu/student-experiences/campus-safety/links-resources.

With that, I wish everyone a happy and healthy spring semester, and encourage enjoying yourself with safely-conducted gatherings to keep up the social spirit.

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