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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Perspective: GW’s COVID protocol leaves students on their own

No GW student is an expert in disease control — the choice of spreading the virus should not be in our hands.

Like most students, the chaos of my first year was just starting to dissipate a month into college. There were no more beds to loft, first-year frenzy socials or awkward newbie greetings. The last thing I expected was that I would be heading home just three weeks into the school year.

I thought I had seen almost everything after spending a month in Thurston Hall, including my microroom that feels built for a mid-sized gerbil. Then the unexpected happened: my roommate tested positive for COVID-19. Although the new strand seemed like a distant concern, GW’s COVID policy transformed this small fear into a nightmare.

After calling my community coordinator’s emergency line, I only received the phone number of the Student Health Center and a referral to GW’s COVID response website.

With the directions to the GW website, I found that the school recently ceased all COVID operations on campus. The new policy includes the removal of on-campus testing as well as the end of emergency housing. All accountability and questions are now deflected to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The referral puts all responsibility on the student and as a result, made me feel on my own as I tried to keep myself safe.

Foggy Bottom is just a couple of Metro stops away from home, so I’m lucky to have housing in emergency situations. But with an immunocompromised brother at home, I only had three choices: stay in my dorm room and most likely get COVID, stay in a friend’s dorm room and risk giving them COVID or go home and put my family at risk.

While the new strand of COVID may be less severe symptoms-wise, reports reflect that the strain may be spreading quicker, and GW is doing nothing about it. Without emergency housing, GW forces students to weigh their own safety as well as the safety of friends and family. It is unreasonable to force students to choose who must get sick.

It is even more unreasonable to assume that every student has another housing option if their roommate is sick. What happens to those who don’t have the option of just Metroing home? First-year Grace Lee had to make this decision when her suitemate tested positive for COVID. They were told to remain in their dorm and continue to follow CDC guidelines. But adhering to CDC isolation guidelines is close to impossible in college dorms with beds less than five feet apart.

Since COVID tests were sold out in all stores on campus, including the Student Health Center, Lee and her suitemate traveled off campus to purchase a test. In this case, a negative test only complicated their situation. Due to the absence of emergency housing, Lee’s suitemate was left without a safe place to reside. Instead of staying with her sick roommate, Lee’s suitemate slept in a friend’s larger room. Within a couple of days, another student in the larger room tested positive for the virus.

Whether the visiting suitemate was an unknown carrier for COVID, or the host student contracted the illness in public, the quick transmission of COVID itself could have been prevented through accessible isolation practices. 

The University’s failure to provide accommodating COVID measures only results in an increased risk of exposure and the overload of student stress. Piled on top of looming deadlines and exams, it is now the responsibility of students to fend for themselves while potentially putting others at risk.

It is a perverse incentive. Students either disrupt their lives and assume delays and costs to isolate in some other location — or they become a potential superspreader among the student body.

Schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California still reserve dorms for isolation. Michigan even offers an extensive plan of action for students, including FAQs surrounding their isolation period and academic procedures to ensure students remain as healthy as possible. 

GW’s COVID website basically says a lot without truly saying anything. Much like a procrastinated essay, the policy reads like officials were desperately trying to reach a required word limit without having anything real to say. Besides isolation policies that come from the CDC, there is no specific GW-designed protocol for how a student should handle themselves when they contract COVID.

Without the chance to isolate, the University gives students an avenue to spread the virus rather than contain it. Emergency housing offers a critical buffer for the student body — and avoids our having to make triage decisions between ourselves and those around us. 

No GW student is an expert in disease control — the choice of spreading the virus should not be in our hands. For a University that is repeatedly associated with some of the nation’s most expensive tuition fees, there needs to be other options. If GW can fund the importation of engraved bottle openers for parents’ weekend, they can likely put funding towards an improved plan of COVID action.

Madie Turley, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.

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