OPINION | Sudden relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions may have been hasty

Jordan Levine, Contributing Columnist

(Will Embree)

On Oct. 28, Tulane University Campus Health blasted an email to students and faculty that likely came as a shock to many: the mask mandate would be lifted effective Oct. 29.

This email stated that students and faculty no longer need to wear a mask anywhere on Tulane’s campus, indoors or outdoors. Some members of the community may have been thrilled to receive the update after two years of college life were tainted by memories of being sent home early, taking biweekly COVID-19 tests and being contact traced. However, others may have been skeptical and forced to ask the question: is COVID-19 really over?

This time last year, many students navigated their midterms from the confinement of quarantine in Paterson Hall or the Hyatt Regency. Halloween caused the greatest spike in cases last year with around 3% of students testing positive daily. In the three days before Halloween last year, there were zero cases of COVID-19 on campus. 

This year, Halloween took place only three days after the announcement was made regarding the mask mandate. This course of action was risky, especially because the spike in cases last year should have served as a warning. 

Was it really responsible for Tulane to lift the mandate the Friday before Halloween? It has been two weeks since the mask mandate was lifted and, but only 0.5% of Tulane students and employees are testing positive. It is apparent that the risk of lifting the mask mandate did not cause a spike in cases to the extent that it did last year. 

In addition to Halloween potentially causing an increase in the number of cases on campus, it is important to note that Homecoming, Parent’s Weekend and reunions were planned for Nov. 12-14. 

During these events, many parents and alumni travel to New Orleans from other states in which COVID-19 restrictions are not heavily enforced or taken seriously which is apparent from the high number of cases in different states. This poses a threat not only to Tulane’s campus but to the greater New Orleans area. 

Over 95% of students and faculty are currently vaccinated. Therefore, the number of COVID-19 cases on campus has remained manageable. However, large influxes of visitors to campus and increased travel for Thanksgiving break has potential to increase the spread of COVID-19. 

Some professors still wear their masks or request that students do so in their classes. Many students in unofficial Tulane group chats urge people to be respectful of professors’ requests. In addition, Sodexo workers on campus are still required to wear their masks. People may be wondering if the school really took the health of faculty and staff into consideration, and one would hope that essential staff and faculty feel comfortable on campus. 

Additionally, Tulane relaxed their COVID-19 testing policy, moving from weekly student testing to a pool-based testing scheme, where individuals are randomly selected to complete a COVID-19 test. To placate those who may still be worried about COVID-19, maybe Tulane should have maintained a strong program to monitor COVID positivity rates while not mandating masks.

While lifting the mask mandate definitely projects the idea that Tulane sees the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, it is also important to note that students may have adopted this mentality much earlier on. It seems that lifting the mask mandate only affects how we present ourselves on campus and does not mark much of a change in Tulane’s social life.

Just as quickly as things descended into mayhem in 2020, things seem to have returned back to normal. As a student body, we should remain mindful of the consequences of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions. 

While students should still air on the side of caution, it is nice to think that the rest of the academic year will progress without the constant presence of stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over and we should aim to strike a balance between living our lives and being responsible.