Emerson students react to post-spring break COVID-19 policies

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Photo: Hongyu Liu

Emerson’s COVID-19 testing center.

By Bailey Allen, Editor-at-Large

Students have mixed feelings about the upcoming masks-optional policy, non-Emerson visitor admittance, and other coming changes in campus COVID protocol.

With spring break quickly approaching, some students—like first-year journalism major Ana Luque—are wary of the dwindling COVID restrictions on-campus as students will be traveling and will not be required to test before coming back to campus.

“When we had Thanksgiving break, I thought it was a really good idea of [the administration] to make us do a test before we came to Emerson and we uploaded the results,” she said. “At least they knew who was positive. But now we’re going to spring break, and we don’t have to do the testing anymore. So what was all this effort?”

The college announced a variety of changes to its COVID-19 protocol in two community-wide communications sent out by college officials on Feb. 9 and Feb. 18. The first communication advised students to take a rapid antigen test prior to their return to campus after the break—though it stated that the college will not require students to complete a negative test attestation.

The second email detailed the permittance of fully vaccinated and boosted non-Emerson guests into the residence halls beginning Feb. 22, as well as the end of the campus mask requirement outside of the classroom beginning Mar. 21.

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“The college will begin to move toward an approach in which it responds to the ebb and flow of the COVID virus as part of institutional operations,” read the email from Associate Vice President of Campus Life Erik Müürisepp, who serves as the college’s “COVID Lead,” and Interim President Bill Gilligan wrote in the email.

Meggie Phan, a first-year journalism major, was apprehensive about the upcoming mask-optional policy due to waning vaccine efficacy after a period of time.

“It’s trash,” Phan said. “I’m from Vietnam—if you don’t wear a mask, you get fined… It’s a social taboo to not wear your mask. People don’t want to get your diseases. I just feel like it’s really stupid because we live downtown and the students might be vaccinated, but as we know, after a period of time, vaccinations aren’t as effective and you have to get booster shots.”

Suffolk County, which includes the City of Boston, reported 165 COVID cases on Wednesday, following a downward trend from the Jan. 10 peak of 9,022 cases. Massachusetts numbers are also falling, with 1,036 cases reported on Wednesday, trailing the Jan. 10 peak of 64,715 cases.

“I feel like if you just wear masks, stay safe, wash your hands, you’re not going to die,” she continued. “A little extra precaution is just going to make sure everything is a little safer.”

Ethan de Bruyn, a first-year visual and media arts major, also expressed concern about the mask requirement being dropped so soon after the end of spring break, which ends March 13.

“I don’t like that because people are going to travel for Spring Break and I just know there are going to be the people who think it’s an inconvenience to tell others that they may have been in contact with [COVID-positive] people and then there are also going to be the people that don’t wear [masks],” he said. “So I think there’s going to be a lot of spreading that’s going to happen.”

Other students, such as first-year interdisciplinary major Jillian Hetherman, appreciate the mask-optional policy due to greater ease of participating in school activities. Hetherman, who stage-manages the Musical Theatre Society’s “Tavern Song” production, said she believes that performing without masks would allow for better acting practice.

“With this new optional guideline for people who are comfortable rehearsing without masks, it really helps,” she said. “Especially in terms of singing and being able to use your full range of acting, if you will be performing without masks.”

Hetherman believes it is naive to assume that students have been following mask guidelines the entire time. With the mask-optional policy, she reasoned, students will no longer need to sneak around.

“[A mask-optional policy would] keep us safer because at least you know who doesn’t wear a mask, who goes out more than other people, and who has people in their room without masks on,” Hetherman said. “Eliminating the secrecy with these new guidelines is the best that we have in terms of people knowing what’s happening at all times.”

Despite the shift in requirement, some students—like first-year visual and media arts major Satiene Fortenbach—will still opt for mask-wearing due to caution. 

“Even though they’re allowing it, I am probably going to wear it quite often,” Fortenbach said. “It’s great that we are heading in that direction, but we’re so used to wearing them and it’s clearly been working. Sticking with it might be safe just right now.”

Adri Pray contributed reporting.