OPINION: When it comes to post-break testing, ignorance is not bliss

Last week, Pomona students received an email that Covid testing after spring break was just like any other week: optional. Maggie McBride PO’23 argues that this decision is a risk to community safety. (Florence Pun • The Student Life)

The 5Cs could be facing its biggest COVID-19 outbreak yet — but no one would know it.

On Monday March 20, you were probably reminiscing about dancing in Cabo or traipsing the bustling streets of some other getaway when you got the Outlook notification. In an email to the Pomona College student body, there was a reminder that testing after spring break would be just like any other week: optional. 

In 1742, Thomas Grey wrote, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Based on the recent approach to dealing with COVID-19, Pomona agrees.

The problem is that last week wasn’t any week and shouldn’t have been treated as such. It was the week after spring break in which hundreds of students flocked to destinations around the country and across the world. In a normal week, the school’s testing policy does not have to account for quite so many students embarking on long-distance flights or spending time in clubs packed to the brim. It is inevitable that students would have been exposed to COVID in their times away from Claremont, but administration is failing to appropriately respond to this level of risk.

In the aforementioned email to students sent to students, Dean Avis Hinkson wrote, “First, let me confirm what has been in place since the start of the spring semester and will continue.” This statement is framed as though it would be a bigger disservice to common convenience than the health and wellbeing of students to institute a testing policy. Keep in mind that this testing policy has been in effect every break prior, adequately taking into account the increased COVID risk inherent to school-wide vacation. 

The rationale for this statement, as well as other changes to COVID policies discussed in the email, is that these decisions were made in accordance with Los Angeles County’s guidelines. This is generally a reasonable way to make decisions about on-campus COVID policy. But there’s one major issue with likening the Claremont Colleges to Los Angeles County as a whole: there’s no such thing as a LA County spring break. The real world doesn’t get to take a break from the pandemic, so why should Pomona be any different? 

As with any moment in the pandemic, COVID cases vary widely across the country. During this week, Pomona is bound to get an inaccurate picture of COVID cases on campus by looking at LA County case counts as a reference, overlooking the fact that most students likely weren’t even in LA County during the break. 

Pomona’s dismissal of COVID is a striking combination of recklessness, privilege and ignorance. Instead of discounting pandemic management altogether, the college should attend to the real-world difference in our environment while deciding how to best apply LA county’s guidelines. Administration boasts that their nonsensical quarantine policies prioritize student health, leading to an assumption that this care for community safety would translate to testing policies. Instead, the rules only apply to those who genuinely prioritize public health and continue to test, especially when symptoms arise. 

A rational decision would be to enact more caution after the break and require students to test. But maybe we should have expected this — after all, Pomona doesn’t have a stellar track record with rational decision-making regarding COVID and student health and wellbeing.

Pomona now relies on an honor system for students to test, but given the college’s blunders with its quarantine policies, it will be no wonder if testing rates are low. This leaves vulnerable individuals, such as those who are immunocompromised, guessing about whether the campus is a safe environment to be in right now. Pomona cannot rely on students to test, even when they become sick, if they continue to ignore student feedback on these policies. Pomona’s administration is actively harming community wellbeing.

Maggie McBride PO ’23 is a senior majoring in psychological science. She would like to thank the creator of 5C Friend.

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