(Photo courtesy of TIME) “Colleges across the country have varying degrees of COVID-19 measures still in place.”
Everything feels like it’s returning to normal after COVID with only a few restrictions and protocols. Many people consider COVID over and no one really needs to worry about catching it anymore. However, COVID is still a worry for many people including myself and my family. You may have seen me walking around campus; I’m one of the few still wearing a mask. That’s because my parents have pre-existing conditions that make them very vulnerable to COVID. Because of this, I make sure to be very aware of what could be a risk. That being said, is UMass Lowell currently doing enough to prevent another outbreak of COVID?
I will admit what UMass Lowell is currently doing is pretty solid. The first two vaccines are required for all students and staff with the booster recommended. If a student has COVID symptoms the Wellness Center will give them a COVID test. If there is a positive case of COVID they want that person to isolate for a minimum of 5 days and up to 10 days if the person continues to show symptoms. The school also wants them to wear a mask for 10 days after the positive COVID test is done. On top of this, UMass Lowell updated the ventilation systems so that there’s more fresh air flowing through the buildings. They added HEPA filters in any of the classrooms that don’t have a good ventilation system and UMass Lowell has also kept their increased cleaning policies.
Those policies are very helpful in keeping COVID at a minimum, but is there anything more that can be done? The answer is yes because there are some additional policies could be added. I’m not about to suggest that everyone is required to wear masks or that we should go back online. I understand that not everyone wants to wear masks (even though I recommend wearing them around many people) and that not everyone likes online learning. I want us to be able to do all the fun things we want. I know I have been capitalizing on all the events being hosted by the school because of how isolated I felt during the height of the COVID pandemic. But there are some things I would like to see added to UMass Lowell’s policies.
One thing I’d like to see is a way for more students to be able to get COVID tests. Currently it’s only if you are having symptoms. But something apparent is that there are a lot of asymptomatic cases, and even those people can receive long-term effects from having COVID. If someone is worried that they might have COVID because they were near someone who tested positive or they went to an event with 100s of people it would be nice if they could get a test. UMass Lowell should also add testing for those that had COVID and require them to have a negative test before they can stop isolating. It also would be nice if there were places on campus for students and staff to get free masks if they wanted to. There are many companies now that are overstocked on masks so currently masks are cheaper. Not every student can afford to buy these items regularly so making them readily available is important.
I also think it would be nice if there was a way to know what the ventilation in the each of the different buildings was. The only information online is that many instructional and administrative buildings have an HVAC system, but these systems could all have different cycling rates. Another thing that would be important to have as publicly accessible information is the number of students and staff currently known to have COVID on campus. These things are important for students to know to assess their risk of COVID. It would also be good for UMass Lowell to put out information about what COVID can cause other than flu-like symptoms like clotting, heart diseases, brain shrinkage, permanent lung damage and immune system damage.
Lastly, I believe it would be a good idea for UMass Lowell to implement a testing method called “Wastewater Testing.” For this method UMass Lowell would periodically test the wastewater from all over campus for COVID. The amount of the COVID virus in the wastewater can be a better indicator of how many people have COVID compared to testing all students and staff individually. It would pick up anyone who was asymptomatic without paying for a lot of tests. Then the school could keep a watch on the levels of COVID If the levels start picking back up again they can catch the spread faster and have a better chance to stop it.
I believe UMass Lowell adding these measures could better protect the students, staff, and their families without hindering their everyday lives. We need to protect each other, and these measures can do that.