Bachelor students returned from the spring break to a campus with one new set of COVID-19 policies: masking is no longer required on most campus sites, and most students must test once a month after their arrival test.
The COVID-19 dashboard, which has now been updated to include cases after the spring break, indicates that the campus positivity rate dropped to 1.25 percent, a decrease of about 48 percent compared to the positivity rate of 2.40 percent that was reported in the week before the spring break ended on March 4th.
The university’s adjusted COVID-19 policies came in the wake of new CDC guidelines announces that 98 percent of U.S. counties, including Mercer County, have reported COVID-19 case levels safe enough to overturn masking recommendations.
The change in the mask mandate took effect on March 14 after the spring break, which lasted from March 5 to March 12. The shift facilitated the former indoor universal mask mandate to allow optional masking in most environments, unless otherwise specified by course instructors and event coordinators, except for health facilities such as the McCosh Health Center and public transportation, including TigerTransit buses. Individuals who participate in the asymptomatic test protocol and who have been updated on their COVID-19 boosters now only have to submit tests once a month instead of once a week.
With the revised guidelines in place, the university has COVID-19 Dashboard has expanded the range of statistics it reports on campus COVID-19 developments to include new measures such as campus case severity, essential services status, test capacity and more.
In addition to the updated case rates, the COVID-19 dashboard now features a new measure called the campus reduction level. This metric considers vaccine and booster efficiencies to prevent serious illness, availability of essential services, isolation capacity, and area health care capacity to produce a holistic assessment that reflects the nature of remedial measures adopted by the University.
The three possible mitigation levels include “Baseline”, “Moderate Mitigation” and “Increased Mitigation”, the latter involving the most restrictive COVID-19 mitigation measures, including universal masking, collection restrictions and frequent asymptomatic tests.
Monday, March 14, marked the first day that members of the university community who participated in the asymptomatic test protocol were allowed to attend lectures and enter university buildings without wearing face masks, for the first time since the spring of 2020. Between March 12, and March 14 students had to submit COVID-19 tests and were asked to continue wearing face clothing until they received negative test results.
According to Dashboard’s latest COVID-19 results from the week ending March 11, 4,480 tests were collected from university members participating in the asymptomatic test protocol; a total of 56 people tested positive. This number includes 34 undergraduate students, four graduate students and 18 faculties, staff and other staff.
Insulation housing utilization is 21.82 percent, with 24 students isolated per. March 16, which is a marked decrease from the maximum number of 235 students who were isolated at any given time in the week ending March 3rd. week ending March 11 is not available on the control panel.)
The relaxation of these COVID-19 mitigation measures has polarized students, which some students support and others express disappointment and concern. Apparently in an effort to counter potential divisions resulting from the transition to an optional masking policy, the university has spread the motto “Masks optional. Compassion required” to encourage students to respect their peers’ decisions regarding indoor masking. The Campus COVID-19 Community Update email sent to students on March 15 emphasized that “[i]It is up to us to promote a non-judgmental campus environment in which people’s individual choices about whether or not to wear a mask are respected. ”
As of Wednesday, March 16, the dashboard reports a “Baseline” campus reduction level, with weekly indicators indicating that the campus case is “mild”, the status of essential services is “good”, and the isolation capacity is “fair”.
In addition, the university’s test capacity is currently designated as “good”. The baseline reduction level includes high continued vaccine efficacy and mild to moderate symptoms in those who test positive, according to the dashboard.
Amy Ciceu is a senior writer who often covers research and COVID-19 related developments. She also works as a newsletter editor. She can be contacted at [email protected]