In 1931, Erwin Schrodinger devised a thought experiment known today as Schrodinger’s cat. According to Wikipedia, it referred to a quantum superposition theorem, which argues that any given quantum system remains in superposition until it is observed. At that time, it collapses into one of the possible states. Perhaps this is the theory under which Luther operates its testing policy; if they test all of the students, that makes all the asymptomatic cases real, and it’s easier to just pretend like they don’t exist. But I doubt it. The testing policy at this college is more likely due to a lack of understanding of what strategies actually work to stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition, Luther has applied inconsistent logic to their enforcement policies while often outright failing to enforce physical distancing at all.
Many COVID-19 strategies are floating around out there, but, put simply, the most commonly used are mitigation and suppression. Mitigation refers to items like mask-wearing, closing stores, and enforcing social distancing. Suppression of the coronavirus combines those strategies with extremely high levels of testing and contact tracing. The countries that have been the most successful in combating the coronavirus (New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan) have enforced mask-wearing and physical distancing. Still, they’ve also put in place an extremely effective contact tracing and testing program. Dear reader, can you guess which one of those things Luther College isn’t doing? To use an example from a nearby liberal arts school, when Carleton College students returned from their coronacation, they were all tested for COVID-19. Twice. At Luther, as far as I know, it was the athletes and random people.
Last week’s revelation that five cases on campus could not be located by contact tracing means that those people caught COVID-19 from someone who Luther doesn’t know has it. There’s a relatively high probability that there’s a lot of cases on campus that we just don’t know about, and an even higher probability that this trajectory will follow local, regional, and national trends and only get worse. It means more asymptomatic cases on campus, cases which we simply won’t catch. How could we? It’s not like we’re going to test for them. In addition, after Thanksgiving break, students will return from all over the country, and we won’t be testing them either. With the current testing policy and the repeated occurrence of community spread on campus, this pandemic will only worsen. And Luther is ill-prepared for that possibility.
Finally, Luther’s plan places a heavy reliance on students’ goodwill, while not providing a safe environment for that goodwill to have any effect. Have any administrators stepped foot in the Caf recently? Even if there’s social distancing going on (which is often not the case), there’re a lot of people not wearing masks in that room. The other day I went down to eat in the Caf, and the line to get in the Caf was touching the line to get grab n’ go, which was touching the line to get Marty’s. Excuse my French, but holy cow. The place was basically a petri dish. Talk about community spread! But instead of actually enforcing physical distancing in a small space where there were probably 200 people, they’ve banned students from going to other residence halls. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, but if you’re going to allow all of those students to gather in the same place anyway, then perhaps it’s somewhat of an empty gesture.
I’m not asking for perfection; at a residential college holding in-person classes, that’s impossible. What I’m asking for is more effort and consistency in applying these strategies. With the amount of money I’m paying this college, I promise that there’s money for more testing. This pandemic will not go away anytime soon, and we need to improve our testing rates with that in mind. Luther either needs to implement contact tracing protocols or work with Winneshiek County to improve the current protocol because I know of multiple people who had close contacts with someone positive but were not contacted at all. They had to get tested themselves. And finally, Luther needs to do something about the Caf situation; perhaps enforcement of social distancing would be a good place to start. People’s lives are at stake: let’s treat this situation like that’s the case.
Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated.