DePauw’s COVID-19 Mitigation Team is considering changes to the COVID-19 protocols on campus. According to an email sent out March 2, an update will be provided prior to spring break, which begins March 26.
According to Chief of Staff and leader of the COVID-19 Mitigation Team Sarah Steinkamp, new CDC guidance “moves us from thinking about protecting the entire population to protecting individuals, and it moves some of the decision-making from the institution or the county to an individual.”
On March 9, COVID-19 Campus Status at DePauw changed from Yellow to Blue. According to the COVID dashboard, the Blue Campus Status means that COVID-19 is contained on campus, and cases of COVID-19 occur infrequently.
There are not many differences in terms of the living experience between the Blue and Yellow Status, according to Steinkamp. “Blue is sort of a continued de-escalation of our positivity rate on campus,” Steinkamp said.
A link to Putnam County’s COVID-19 dashboard has been added to the DePauw website so that the community is aware of the situation in the county and makes decisions on their behaviors based on that information.
Specifically regarding whether masking will be required after spring break, Steinkamp said the mitigation team is also taking into account the rulings of other universities to determine the protocol for the DePauw community. Although some universities have lifted their masking mandate since the CDC announced their new guidance earlier in 2022, Steinkamp said DePauw did not do so because the number of positive cases on campus was still high at that time.
She added that right now, the mitigation team is confident about the direction DePauw is going in since there has been no positive case in the past two weeks. The team is also aware that things can change.
“As we're creating sort of the protocols for the rest of the term, and potentially for next year, we're also trying to build in some mechanisms for pulling back if something does happen. What we don't want to do is do sort of extreme pivots very quickly that confuse the community and sort of make everything difficult,” Steinkamp said. The specifics of this system are being discussed and will be implemented after spring break.
First-year Sara Ponferrada is worried that “we would be running in circles” if masks are removed. “Right now, the COVID cases are low so we get rid of the masks. Once we do that, the cases will go back up and they require masks again. And once they do that, cases will go back down and it starts all over again,” Ponferrada said.
Steinkamp said this viewpoint is part of the reason why the mitigation team is slowly removing safety protocols and continuously adjusting to make sure the changes do not affect the situation negatively.
“We believe in the strategies that we're using, and we're hoping to get to campus to a place where things can feel more normal, right? And what that normal ends up being in a COVID world in, you know, summer of 2022 - I think we're all still figuring that out. But I think we're in a really positive direction,” Steinkamp said.
She added that the number of COVID-19 cases across the country is low, so the mitigation team does not anticipate a dramatic rise in cases on campus after spring break, when students are returning from different parts of the country.
Sophomore Sophie Bartos believes masking requirements should be lifted since “COVID cases are declining quickly.” First-year Abby Fathauer thinks that DePauw is moving from the pandemic stage into the “endemic stage, so now masks should only be for if you have symptoms of COVID or if you are around someone who is immunocompromised.”
As an immunocompromised individual who also has asthma, first-year Maia Casterline doesn’t want to get COVID-19 and also prefers not to wear a mask all the time. “Everyone has a unique situation, and a blanket [masking] mandate isn’t the solution,” Casterline said.
Another change that is being considered regarding COVID-19 protocols on campus is the protocol following a positive COVID-19 test result. According to Steinkamp, the current protocol is to put positive individuals in isolation, doing contact tracing and making sure those individuals have support from the care team at DePauw.
Steinkamp said there are universities moving to isolation in place, meaning positive students isolate themselves in their rooms, pick up meals from the dining halls at a designated time, and can go outside to exercise.
“We are paying very close attention to campuses that have moved in this direction. We are very interested to see if there is additional spread when that type of isolation occurs,” Steinkamp said.
She added that isolation is a challenging process, so the mitigation team is trying to find a mechanism that can balance public safety and student support, making sure isolated students do not feel alone.
Steinkamp also emphasized that while it is important for the mitigation team to understand what the community is feeling, the mitigation strategies are designed based on data and research.
“To ensure that we are paying attention to the research, following the data, and doing what's right for our campus, it does mean that sometimes there are changes made that not everybody is comfortable with. And part of the reason why we are going slowly is so that we can make sure that everyone understands why decisions are being made and how those decisions impact them personally,” Steinkamp said.