Posted on: March 25, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Nick Stulga, News Editor

As a new, highly transmissible variant spreads rapidly across Europe, health officials are concerned that the U.S. could be in for another surge in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, mask mandates have been lifted around the country, including in Illinois. And here at Moraine Valley, COVID testing and the use of Cleared4Class have come to a halt.

All of this raises questions: Are we in too big a hurry to see COVID as over? And could recent changes at Moraine prove to be risky in terms of health and safety?

“We’re in mile 18 of a marathon. We can’t quit,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on Fox News Sunday. “Because COVID’s not quitting, we can’t quit either.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top medical adviser, told ABC News recently via a podcast, “I would not be surprised if in the next few weeks we see somewhat of either a flattening of our diminution or maybe even an increase.”

At Moraine, on-campus testing ended March 23 when a federal program that funded it expired. Non-vaccinated students will no longer need to submit a negative COVID test via Cleared4Class prior to coming to campus.

The college will not place the financial burden of getting tested off-campus on the students themselves, especially given the college’s recent increase in tuition, says Margaret Lehner, vice president for Institutional Advancement.

“It’s too expensive,” Lehner said. “The tests cost $100 apiece. There’s no way we could put that burden onto our students. It’s $400 a month for a student. That’s just positively outrageous.”

We’re in mile 18 of a marathon. We can’t quit. Because COVID’s not quitting, we can’t quit either.”

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

Students are going to be on an honor system, according to Kent Marshall, dean of students and compliance officer. It is the student’s responsibility to inform the contact tracers at Moraine if they are feeling ill or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Marshall says the honor system will be in place “until they get things figured out about the testing and all.” 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order requiring college students and staff to “undergo testing for COVID-19” unless they have submitted proof of vaccination expires April 2.

If the executive order is extended, all students would be violating this mandate unless they are tested.

“We’re in a situation now where if the governor continues the mandate, what are we going to do?” Lehner said. “But if the governor says testing is gone, we won’t need it anymore.”

Lehner said Moraine’s stance on masking will be reconsidered on Monday. In the meantime, some students on campus have been disregarding masking completely. According to Marshall, the enforcement of Moraine’s mask policy will be “self-regulating.”

He believes students are “getting more comfortable being around others” which has led to a disregard for the masking policy.

The tests cost $100 apiece. There’s no way we could put that burden onto our students.”

Margaret Lehner, Vice President for Institutional Advancement

Students who refuse to comply with Moraine’s masking policy may have the police called on them and/or be referred to the Code of Conduct Office on campus.

Lehner says when it comes to the masking policy, “it’s everyone’s responsibility to enforce it.”

The changes and potential changes in Moraine’s COVID protocols brought mixed reactions.

Kendall Townsen, a MV student working towards his associate’s in science, believes testing is no longer necessary.

“I feel like there might be enough people at this point vaccinated,” Townsen said. “I feel like the numbers are dropping.”

Environmental science student Jan Mudrak shares the same sentiment as Townsen. 

“I personally thought the testing was a detriment,” Mudrak said. “Forcing it on people who didn’t want to get vaccinated was kind of unnecessary.”

Communications professor Panshula Ganeshan says the college should make masks optionals for both students and faculty.

“We should be mindful of over-generalizations on this matter because the situation is so fluid, but it does seem like mask-optional is rational and expected at this point,” Ganeshan said. 

If people still want to wear their mask, that’s alright if they still want to feel protected and safe.”

Alexandra Monterrosas, computer science student at Moraine

Alexandra Monterrosas, a computer science student, also feels students should have the option to mask up or take the mask off.

“If people still want to wear their mask, that’s alright if they still want to feel protected and safe,” Monterrosas said.

Psychology professor Julia Whalen-Musil believes Moraine has done well and will continue to make the best decisions in terms of masking going forward.

“As for what is decided about masks in the future, I am sure MVCC will come up with an equitable solution,” Whalen-Musil said. “The individual could still choose to wear a mask even if the mandate is lifted.”

Moraine Valley is keeping an eye on the situation, basing its health policy on guidelines issued by the CDC and the Cook County Department of Health.

“For the most part, we’ve gone in with a conservative perspective on this,” Lehner said regarding the college’s stance on COVID. “The safety and health of our staff and students are paramount to us.”