Section: Opinion

Weekly Column: “This Kenyon Life” – Our new normal must include COVID-19 mitigation

College is full of learning opportunities. For example, in the last five days of quarantine, I learned that food trucks do not make everything better. I also learned that three people can only peacefully quarantine in a single room for four days and 38 minutes. Above all else, I learned that even after two years of dealing with COVID-19, we are still repeating the same mistakes.

On Feb. 9, Kenyon announced a shift to Level 1 procedures. This shift came after positive cases on campus had dropped to 30. Although this shift made relatively few material changes, it eased student anxieties and presented the risk of infection as “relatively low.” Within a week of the level change, the College reported over 180 new cases.

This trend of loosening health guidelines and giving way to exponential growth in COVID-19 cases is in no way unexpected. Arguably, this one step forward, two steps back pattern has been one of the most consistent dances of COVID-19. It has become increasingly clear that the normal we are rushing back to does not exist. Every step we take “back to normal” drags us further away from the inevitable new normal.

What might this “new normal” look like? The biggest difference is that it would involve a commitment to consistency and education. 

Although all campus activity levels include indoor masking requirements, we still lack consistent proactive measures against the spread of COVID-19. Testing only when our numbers are rising does nothing to ensure that they will not spike again. 

Above all else, a “new normal” depends on students having a clear understanding of how COVID-19 testing and transmission works. Despite being a writer’s college, Kenyon has been slow to correct key misconceptions about COVID-19. 

One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that after five days of quarantine students can safely interact with other students without spreading COVID-19. Although the CDC states that after testing positive for COVID-19, you should quarantine for five days, they also state that, following this quarantine, an infected individual should not interact with anyone unmasked for an additional five days. At Kenyon, this means that after a five-day quarantine, students should continue taking their food to go and not attend unmasked social gatherings for five more days. 

The other large misconception is on immunity after being infected with COVID-19. As case numbers rose last week, you might have found yourself wondering, “If enough of us get COVID-19, then we’ll all be immune to it, right?” Not quite… 

At this point in the pandemic, “herd immunity” is a myth. Claims on immunity after testing positive are inconsistent, with some showing repeat infections in months, and others hypothesizing years of immunity. The concept of “immunity” is further disrupted by the variety of COVID-19 strains. Immunity from omicron does not guarantee immunity for the delta variant, or any future variants. There have even been cases in which a person has been infected with two distinct COVID-19 variants at the same time. 

COVID fatigue is real. However, we must apply what little energy we have to finding and protecting our new normal. The fastest way to normal is to move towards where it is now rather than back to where it used to be.

 

Hannah Sussman ’25 is a columnist at the Collegian. She is a sociology major from Glencoe, Ill. She can be reached at sussman3@kenyon.edu.

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