Prison on campus?

Washington and Lee takes a nonsensical approach to Omicron


As of Jan. 30, 38 of the university’s 47 isolation/quarantine beds are occupied. This means the isolation/quarantine space on campus is 80.9% full. Photo by Jess Kishbaugh, ’24.

Victoria Ernst

Since returning to Washington and Lee University after winter break, many students have feared testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival and being thrown into the depths of Baker Hall. 

Those who have survived the arrival testing, like one brave, healthy freshman (who chose to remain anonymous), are still oppressed by the emails regarding close contact.*  

On Jan. 10, the student received an email stating that he was recently exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. He responded with a photo of his vaccination card with a booster shot from six days prior to the exposure. Because he had not been boosted for exactly seven days, the university unfairly locked him up for five days in fear that he would develop symptoms. 

During his five-day quarantine, the freshman felt completely healthy, except for the fact that he received meager portions of food, including a mere two packs of instant oatmeal for breakfast. 

“It wasn’t the most health conscious thing, and it’s even more ironic because we are being quarantined for health concerns, but then our health when it comes to food seems irrelevant,” said the frustrated student. 

Later, the victim discovered that he was a close contact because of his friend who had been infected; however, both individuals were wearing masks at the time of potential exposure. He should not have been punished for actually following the university’s indoor masking protocol. 

Such quarantine cases of healthy individuals like the aforementioned student are downright illogical and pointless. The student should not have been quarantined; if anything, he should have been released after one day of quarantine, as he would then be considered “fully vaccinated.” 

After his five-day sentence to a dingy room, the university required the student to get tested. And guess what- he tested negative!

Yes, it is important to keep infected individuals, especially those who are experiencing severe symptoms, in quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the highly contagious yet less severe nature of the Omicron variant changes things. 

Individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted (which will constitute virtually all of the student body and faculty by Feb. 7, as per the university’s booster mandate) are protected from the virus, and those who do test positive are often asymptomatic; the chance of a Washington and Lee community member who does not have underlying health conditions being hospitalized is extremely minute. 

Furthermore, those who unknowingly have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic have no impetus to get tested. Hypothetically, asymptomatic individuals who carry the virus unknowingly for the five day infection period could test positive for three months after their initial infection. Who’s to say that every positive test result from an asymptomatic individual is actually false? Who’s to say that every asymptomatic individual contracted the virus in the beginning of winter break and is no longer contagious now? For all we know, we could be imprisoning perfectly healthy students, stripping them from their in- person education (since President Dudley has committed to abolishing virtual education) and involvement on campus for no good reason. 

You’re probably sick of hearing about COVID-19. Frankly, I’m sick of writing about it too. I’m even more sick of those Washington and Lee COVID-19 update emails and the uncertainty. If you’re afraid of infection, wear a mask. There’s no need to quarantine healthy students out of fear. In terms of the virus, all I’m afraid of is the jail known as Baker Hall. 

*Update: On Jan. 28, Washington and Lee University’s Covid-19 Committee sent out an email to students and faculty announcing a change in tracing protocols. “Effective immediately, our COVID Care teams … will no longer contact names and attempt to contact the exposed close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Individuals who test positive will now be responsible for notifying close contacts,” said the email.