With First Lady Jill Biden testing positive for COVID-19, a new variant raising concerns from scientists, and the CDC and FDA clashing over the efficacy of a booster shot, COVID-19 has once again come to the forefront of the Wabash campus at large. As professors have begun to wear masks more frequently and COVID-19 running rampant through several fraternity houses, it poses the question: “How scary is this new variant?”

Courtesy of New York Times

Wabash College’s Nurse Practitioner Chris Amidon said that this is just a general uptick in cases, and nothing to be too alarmed about. 

“I think a lot of this has to do with back-to-school in general,” said Amidon. “A lot of people are coming back together and starting to be inside more. Hospitalizations are creeping up again, and [rising COVID-19 cases] seem to be a national trend.” 

Nikolai Jones ’24, the vice-president of Wabash’s Public Health Organization, echoed many of the same sentiments. 

“There are a similar number of mutations between the Delta and Omicron [variants] and this new variant (BA.2.86), which is slightly concerning,” said Jones. “However, research shows that those who had Omicron are best suited to defend against the new 286 variant, so it shouldn’t be nearly as bad as the Omicron wave.” 

In the past, low vaccination rates within Montgomery County were a cause for concern. This concern led to students questioning if they should reenter the Crawfordsville community. Luckily, Montgomery County has improved their vaccination rates. As of May 10, 2023, 95% of residents received their first dose and 94% had received their second.

Outside of getting vaccinated, Amidon said there are many precautions students can take to avoid getting sick, but one method stands out above the rest.  

“The best thing[to do] is to stay home when you’re sick, which is not [a part] of [Wabash’s] culture,” said Amidon. “Because going to class is so important [at Wabash], it’s noticed when you’re not there. It’s harder to go unnoticed. But, we have to respect that we don’t always know if somebody in our class is immunocompromised. Improve the culture and stay home to rest [when you’re sick]. And if you’re in an area where folks are coughing a lot, wearing a mask can keep you safe.”

The College has come far with their COVID-19 policies since lockdown first began, initially stepping in and offering to help fraternities deal with positive cases. Now, the outlook has changed, with the College allowing fraternities and living units to handle cases on an internal basis. Phi Gamma Delta President Thomas Joven ’24 notes this, talking about his experience with the outbreak at FIJI. 

“Last Thursday one of our freshman tested positive, then over the next two or three days more guys tested positive as well,” said Joven. “We didn’t know what the campus procedure was, so I called Dean [Marc] Welch ’99 and he had a similar reaction. He said if guys could go home that would be best, but if they can’t then we had to figure out a workaround. So we created a makeshift solution in our basement, got approval from Nurse Amidon, and moved the five guys in.”

Joven shared that besides rescheduling a brotherhood event, he doesn’t feel that COVID-19 should halt too much of the house’s operations. Jones also expressed the same sentiment, saying, “I might change my behavior if things get worse, but it’s difficult [to change] because many of us are sick of social distancing.” 

While COVID-19 cases may be on the rise, this disease is here to stay. Downgraded from a pandemic to an endemic, COVID-19 has become a part of students’ lives for the foreseeable future. Although unfortunate, cases such as these will likely continue to be a norm for Wabash students in the years to come.