On Feb. 12, Western Illinois University announced the shift into Phase III COVID-19 guidelines, which went into effect at both the Quad Cities and Macomb campuses on Feb. 15. The University Office of Risk Management cited reduced numbers of active COVID-19 cases as the reason for this change in guidelines. The new policy allows for 50 people to attend in-person events on campus instead of 10, in addition to the reopening of the dining centers in Corbin/Olson and Thompson Halls and the University Union. The seating has been placed six feet apart in these dining centers to ensure student safety. Previous COVID-19 guidelines, such as mandatory face coverings in all on-campus locations, remain in effect. The university also continues to provide free COVID-19 testing on-campus.
Student responses to this change in policy vary, as many students are excited about the potential to have more social interactions, while others have concerns about the risk implications this may cause. According to Western Illinois University freshman Payton Anthony, “I think it’s great that we are able to gather in larger numbers now, since it feels like a step in the right direction.” The change in policy brings a greater sense of normalcy to life on campus. According to music education sophomore Abigail Lindsay, “I think gathering in groups of 50 people is great when we can still maintain social distancing.” Lindsay expressed concerns about potentially being required to gather in large groups in small spaces for mandatory classes. Other music majors shared this same concern. Sophomore music therapy major Hannah McGinty said, “I’m not against the gatherings of 50, but in some ways it feels kind of risky. Specifically because of my [music] major, I feel highly uncomfortable being crammed into a room for a full band rehearsal. But this is just my personal concern.” According to these student responses, gathering in large groups should be allowed for students, but not required for students who may feel uncomfortable with these large gatherings. Additionally, Lindsay and McGinty would like to see COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing strictly enforced in these mandatory classes, especially when health concerns such as air exchanges take place with playing instruments and singing.
The changes in policy influence the experience of various majors and in-person classes, but they also heavily influence student organizations and activities. The ability to hold larger gatherings allows many
organizations to shift their meetings from via Zoom to in-person in the University Union or other campus locations. These organizations can have more social events and interactions with one another, which is especially important for organizations with a primary social focus such as fraternities and sororities.
While the new guidelines allow for more flexibility for students and organizations, the students are still heavily encouraged to avoid large social gatherings, wash hands diligently, wear face coverings and make all efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on campus. According to Joe Roselieb, the Executive Director of the Office of Risk Management, “While the number of cases affecting our regions are going down, we want to continue to do everything we can to ensure we don’t see a spike in cases.”