Education

‘Crafted Out Of Thin Air’: Amherst College Students Push Back On COVID-19 Guidelines

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Kendall Tietz Education Reporter
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  • Amherst College students pushed back against newly outlined COVID-19 guidelines in a Thursday letter, which administrators had implemented due to rising concerns over the delta variant.
  • Students lambasted the Aug. 24 rules in the open letter, which are in place for the first two and a half weeks of the semester. Along with the letter, a petition had been signed by hundreds of students as of Tuesday morning, according to the original document.
  • The letter urges the school’s administration to reconsider the new guidelines and asks the school to explain its “impetus” in changing earlier guidelines that were outlined in an Aug. 16 announcement. The new rules include an outdoor mask mandate, double masking requirement (if not wearing a KN95) and restrictions to town access, according to the letter.

Amherst College students pushed back against newly outlined COVID-19 guidelines in a Thursday letter to administrators that had implemented the strict rules due to growing concerns over the delta variant.

Students lambasted the Aug. 24 rules in an open letter, which are in place for the first two and a half weeks of the semester. Along with the letter, a petition had been signed by hundreds of students as of Tuesday morning.

The letter urges the college to reconsider the new guidelines and asks for administrators to explain the “impetus” behind changing an earlier version of the guidelines that were outlined in an Aug. 16 announcement. The new rules include an outdoor mask mandate, double masking requirement (if not wearing a KN95) and limited town access, according to the letter.

Students are now restricted from going to restaurants and bars in town, but may go into Amherst “to conduct business,” such as opening a bank account or picking up prescriptions, the guidelines state. There is also a limit on in-person non-academic events.

“Spectators will be allowed at outdoor sporting events, but all spectators must be masked, and there will not be any pre-or post-game gatherings, tailgating, tents, or group eating and drinking,” according to the guidelines.

“As the email stands currently, the guidelines are not based on any given data, have been developed without student input, are significantly stricter than our peer institutions, and are in conflict with CDC guidelines,” the letter said. “This is not only frustrating as the guidelines appear to be crafted out of thin air, but also confusing as they contradict what we are seeing and hearing about the transmission of COVID-19.”

Students and staff are required to wear masks indoors unless they are alone in their private personal offices or residence hall rooms, according to the updated guidelines. They are required to have a “mask on hand outdoors,” which they are expected to wear in “high density gatherings” or for a “sustained time period,” which is defined as 10-15 minutes or longer.

The letter cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines and said “There is no evidence that suggests that masks should be worn outdoors by vaccinated individuals as transmission outdoors is less than 1%.”

“Either a KN95 mask or doubled (two masks on top of one another) disposable, pleated, filter face masks must be worn at all times in classrooms and other academic spaces that are operating at 100% capacity,” according to the school’s guidelines.

The students said the school’s guidance is in “direct conflict” with that of the CDC, which discourages double masking while wearing disposable masks and states “disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.” (RELATED: Rage Against The Machine: These 7 States Banned Mask Mandates In Public Schools)

Vaccination has been a known requirement since last spring, the Amherst Student reported. As of Tuesday morning, there are currently five active cases at the university with a 14-day 0.13% positivity rate, according to its COVID-19 dashboard.

Students that arrive at the school without a vaccination record, valid exemption or do not plan to get the vaccine on campus, “will not receive their room key and will not be enrolled for the semester,” according to the guidelines.

Amherst College isn’t the only higher education institution to require vaccines for students, Indiana University, Rutgers University and California State University also have required their students to get the shot.

Per the earlier guidelines, students are encouraged to get a COVID-19 test before coming to school and are required to get a PCR test and a rapid antigen test upon arrival. They are expected to get tested twice a week until Sept. 13.

Students have demanded answers for the testing and mask requirements and compared the rules to nearby, similar colleges such as Williams College.

“At Williams, for example, vaccinated students are exempt from testing unless symptomatic for COVID-19, and do not need to wear masks outdoors or in their residence halls,” the letter said. “Masks are only required for unvaccinated individuals or indoors during class and other academic activities.”

Lastly, the Valentine Dining Hall was supposed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, the Amherst Student reported. But due to the new protocol, all students will get to-go style meals and eat in the outdoor tents.

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