New year, new variant

Emma Bennett—Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

On March 12 of 2020, Dordt University’s student body received an email from Howard Wilson, Vice President for University Operations, titled “Update on COVID-19 (Coronavirus).”

“We join in the extraordinary efforts of national and global communities to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Wilson said. “Please keep our institution in prayer as we determine next steps.”

The email detailed the “measured and multifaceted approach” of the university’s crisis management team and mentioned limited fan attendance at NAIA winter championships.

Later that night, Dordt extended its spring break for an additional week to “reduce the impact of the virus.”

In the weeks, months, and nearly two years that followed, students received eight “Campus Update” emails from Wilson and 36 “Update from Dordt University” emails from Robert Taylor, dean of students. These emails announced two, separate cancellations of in-person instruction, detailed social distancing and quarantine regulations, and encouraged students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

On January 5 of 2022, Taylor sent his thirty-sixth “Update from Dordt University” email: “We are looking forward to having you back on campus.”

For Dordt’s fifth semester during the pandemic, Taylor announced a shortened, 5-day quarantine period for students who tested positive for COVID-19 and their unvaccinated roommates. The change in protocol came as a result of CDC guidelines. Like the previous semester, the university would not conduct contact tracing or require masking, but would administer COVID-19 tests via Student Health. 

In a video release attached to the email, President Hoekstra instructed students to email their professors and Student Health if they felt ill.

“We trust you,” President Hoekstra said.

On Jan. 15, students returned from their 29-day Christmas break, the longest in university history. Also, on that day, Sioux County recorded a seven-day average of 50, new COVID-19 cases per day, its highest of the pandemic. 

“We assumed that during the start of the semester, we’d see a spike,” Aaron Baart, chief of staff and dean of chapel, said. “That’s why we built the calendar to start a week later than normal.”

Since then, case counts in the area have lessened. On Feb. 6, Sioux County averaged over seven days 19 new cases per day. As of Feb. 5, Dordt recorded zero students in quarantine or isolation. The increase in cases locally and nationally is the result of the Omicron variant, a more contagious, less virulent strain of the virus.

  “If I had [COVID-19], I probably wouldn’t even know.” Alexis Bowe, a junior, said. “I would probably just think it was a bad cold or the flu.” 

In addition to the CDC cutting in half the recommended isolation and quarantine period from ten days to five, they also recently required international travelers to prove their vaccination status upon entering the United States, affecting Dordt’s international students

Bowe has a Canadian friend at Dordt whose family “doesn’t do vaccines:” “If she goes home, she can’t get back in.” 

For the past two semesters, Dordt has provided an on-campus vaccination clinic for students. At last year’s clinic, one student received a vaccination. As of last semester, 35 percent of Dordt students reported a fully vaccinated status. Since the COVID-19 booster is so readily available, according to Baart, Dordt will not offer a vaccine clinic this semester.

“My encouragement for students is if you know a friend or a roommate or someone from class that’s in quarantine, drop something off for them, or send them a note, or write them a prayer, or pick them up a meal,” Baart said. “It’s not fun to be in quarantine, and it can get lonely for people.”

Dordt University did not provide The Diamond with information regarding COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates within the student body for the spring semester.

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