Just last week, a campus-wide email was sent out to students, faculty and staff, informing them that, adhering to the city of Springfield’s mandate, masking outside was no longer required.
As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the Springfield College community remains small, so buds the question, will the masking guidelines be lifted altogether by the start of the Spring 2022 semester?
Because of the soaring vaccination rate on campus — which is now in the high 90% — this question may spark a valid point. Despite that, however, the school has no current plans to ditch the world-famous pieces of fabric anytime soon, according to Kathleen Hogan-Soltys, Nurse Practitioner and Director of the Health Center at Springfield College.
“One week feels long enough in COVID time, so two or three months is an eternity,” she said. “Things just change so quickly. We would love to give the students what they want and take away restrictions, but it’s just not the time or place yet right now.”
As of Nov. 5, there were four members of the Springfield College community in isolation, all of which are off-campus students. There is currently nobody in quarantine on campus, and there have been only two positive tests since Oct. 29. These numbers certainly deserve to be celebrated, and Hogan-Soltys understands and acknowledges that.
“I can tell you that from all the meetings I sit in, we really are so pleased with the response of the students getting vaccinated and following what we know are restrictive guidelines,” she said. “It’s not easy, but everyone seems to be doing it, which is really great. We’ve seen some good results because of it.”
The main concern now, just like with any other scattering virus, is the persistence of the variants that disperse from it. We have already seen the deadly effect of the Delta, and that may not be all, but over time these variants will hopefully become weaker.
“We are going to continue to see variants,” Hogan-Soltys said. “Because of immunity, herd immunity, vaccines and natural immunity after disease it becomes a more mild illness. In return we won’t see the hospitalizations and death rates that we have in the past.”
With winter looming and temperatures dipping well below comfortable, Alden Street’s desired and vouched for outdoor activities will be shifting to mainly indoor events. Hogan-Soltys believes that Annie Warchol, Director of Student Activities and Campus Union, will safely scrape together some enjoyable events for the students to participate in, as she always does.
“Annie and that department are simply amazing in terms of their creativity,” Hogan-Soltys said. “Anything that can be done outdoors they will do, and when there are activities going on inside I know she will make sure they are done as safely as possible and within the COVID guidelines.”
Not only are the Coronavirus numbers low on campus, they are also low across the board in Hampden County, in Massachusetts and in the country in general. The seven-day average of cases just one month ago was 99,785 countrywide. Now, in the beginning of November, that same rate has decreased to 73,605, considerably less than 30 days ago.
“There are a couple factors playing into [the low numbers at Springfield],” said Hogan-Soltys. “Like I said, students are abiding by the guidelines. Second of all, we have an extremely high vaccination rate amongst both students and faculty. And overall, the positivity rate is lower across the board in the country. But it has plateaued, it isn’t completely at zero, we’re just no longer going upwards.”
In correspondence to the city of Springfield and the CDC, Springfield College will not be veering off on its own in terms of creating new guidelines. The College will consistently stick with what the city is doing and adapt accordingly.
“CDC just came out with updated guidance on Nov. 1 for institutes of higher education, which we fall into,” Hogan-Soltys said. “Everything that we are doing is in line with the most recent recommendations for institutions, including indoor masking continuing regardless of vaccination. We will continue to use a combination of the city of Springfield, CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health to construct our guidelines.”
This coming January will mark two full years since the first laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States. While it may be burdensome work to vigorously follow these restrictions, the reassurance that they are indeed working – based on the Springfield College COVID-19 dashboard – is most definitely a relief. Hopefully the students’ burdensome work will soon be rewarded.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College