Breaking Down McDaniel’s Inconsistent COVID-19 Regulations

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay user ronstik)

According to the most recent update from the Return to the Hill Committee, Carroll County is in the “Low” transmission category, and McDaniel College is in the Substantial Transmission category. With that comes new rules and restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Even before McDaniel moved back to the substantial transmission level, undergraduates have said that the rules have been inconsistent and confusing. 

Undergraduate students are required to receive the booster, with medical or religious exemptions, but graduate students and employees are not. According to the CDC, vaccines are necessary to lower the chance of infection and spreading the disease in classrooms, yet the college is okay with unvaccinated graduate students taking hybrid classes. 

“McDaniel is primarily a residential college, and those living in congregate housing are at a greater risk of contracting COVID. We felt that requiring the booster shot for undergraduate students was the best way for us to prevent an outbreak on campus,” Cheryl Knauer, Director of Public Relations for McDaniel College, explained in an interview.

Professors and other faculty members engage in activities outside of campus that put them at risk, such as going to the grocery store and providing family care. Plus, not all students live on campus. Even if the committee’s argument is granted, student commuters are also not participating in late on-campus activities that put other students at risk. If professors are not required to be vaccinated because they do not live on campus, why is it different for students in the same situation? 

Sophomore Daniel Adum points out the college’s double standard for student commuters compared to employees in a recent interview. 

“Teachers are technically commuters, but it’s still not understood why, for example, a teacher doesn’t have to wear a mask but a commuter has to. They’re both coming home and coming to a different place all the time,” Adum said.  

To be clear, this is not an attack on vaccines in general. Empirical data proves that the COVID vaccine lowers the chance of getting infected and is effective against hospitalizations and death. This article is meant to highlight inconsistencies in vaccine and mask policies. 

Students are still required to wear masks in academic settings; however, the new update says professors may teach maskless if they choose. Knauer said the new policy is based on feedback from students who had difficulty hearing lectures. Couldn’t this logic also be applied to students trying to ask and answer questions? Also, this new rule appears to be going against the science, which the college claims to be all about, simply for convenience’s sake. 

Mask rules are strict in classrooms but are heavily relaxed in residence halls. Given that COVID-19 can spread as easily inside a residence hall’s lobby as a classroom, the committee was asked why the difference in policy. 

“Students have the choice as to whether they hang out with friends in residence halls and other spaces on campus and can decide not to partake in these activities if they are uncomfortable. They do not have this option when it comes to attending class,” Knauer said. 

This is not accurate in all situations. Once in a while, the resistant assistants for Daniel MacLea Hall (DMC), one of the dormitories for honors students, require mandatory meetings. These meetings get as crowded as classrooms, yet masking is not required. The same applies to Whiteford Hall, according to McDaniel Free Press staff reporter Nikhil Niyogi, and many other dorms on campus.  

In Glar, the rules for dining are also inconsistent. Servers and bussers are no longer required to wear masks at Englar Dining Hall anymore. Workers at the cafeteria are handling and standing next to the food that students eat. They are cooking the food and sorting the desserts outside the kitchen. How come the college deems it safe for them to go maskless but not for students to go maskless in classrooms?  I asked this question but got no scientific or logical answer other than it being McDaniel’s food provider’s, AVI, policy. 

The Honors program requires students living in DMC and Forlines Housing to host suite events each semester. Honors students often choose to host a movie night at Decker Auditorium. The Honors Board decided to bar eating and drinking there as it encourages students to go maskless. But how is Glar or the Pub any different? If anything, eating at Glar and the Pub is riskier than eating at Decker. The Honors program’s suite events usually consist of less than fifteen students who can easily social distance. In the dining halls, students are far from social distancing. They are packed, and typically, at least three people neck and neck are sitting at the same table maskless. 

The point of this article is not to be against safety precautions against a virus that has taken millions of lives in this country. The purpose is to expose the double standards present in the college’s decisions, whether they are intentional or not. Hopefully, the Return to the Hill Committee will take these points into consideration when updating the rules in the future.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Cheryl Knauer as the head of the Return to the Hill Committee.