It is now just over three weeks since the College of William and Mary has allowed the remaining upperclassmen to return to campus, which is quite the impressive feat in comparison to other institutions throughout the nation. As of the writing of this article, the College’s COVID-19 dashboard reports positive on-campus cases in the low teens. Following a second wave of schoolwide testing, the low numbers may seem unbelievable. However, you only have to walk around campus for just a few minutes to understand the dedication shown by students wearing their masks at all times and avoiding physical contact. Thus, it is easy to feel optimistic about our ability as a community to remain on campus and continue in-person classes.
After which, you only have to walk down Duke of Gloucester Street for just a few minutes to see how this delicate house of cards could come crashing down.
Families. The elderly. People in between who know better. All mingling through DoG Street and Colonial Williamsburg without a care in the world. And almost all of them are without masks.
“But wait,” says a diehard patriot, “DoG Street and Colonial Williamsburg aren’t on the College campus, are they? So, why should we have to follow your lefty College’s mask mandate? Tyranny!”
Sure, because nothing says liberty like lacking even a single ounce of empathy for the students who wish to go outside just to see their best friends in person for once. Nothing says liberty like scaring away students back to their dorms as a result of your basic moral failure to wear a mask. Nothing says liberty like depriving DoG Street shops of business because their one guaranteed source of income — students — don’t want to catch and spread COVID-19 to the brilliant people wandering around without a mask during a pandemic.God forbid students actually care about the world of people outside of the campus walls. The situation is practically unavoidable, too. I have never thought of DoG Street as a particularly congested street to walk down, but it becomes a lot more narrow when tables are set out in the middle for outside dining. Of course, this was a smart decision made to keep people from staying close together indoors, but now traffic is almost definitely contained to the sidewalks on the side of the street, where passing by people in close proximity is inevitable.
This would not be nearly as bad, of course, if everyone in Williamsburg just agreed to wear a mask. As long as two people who briefly come into close contact are both wearing masks, multiple studies have shown that the risk of transmission is significantly reduced.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, that is not the case. And if a single one of those mask-less — ahem — “adults” sneezes near a passing student, the College is that much closer to facing a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak. Masks serve as great protection for your respiratory system, but unless the College is prepared to dish out full hazmat suits for the student community, the possibility of infection from those outside the College, who think themselves above the basic norms of decency, remains.
Since the College seems to be having trouble with the whole “accountability” idea lately, let me say this: if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus, students should not be the first ones to receive threatening emails about how the whole world is watching us, how we failed to set an example for the nation and that so many livelihoods depended on our ability to follow the rules.
Instead, make an appeal now to the City of Williamsburg. Call for a citywide mandate on wearing masks. Enforce your own mask mandate, as well. Not that most students need it; rather, it is the elderly couples who take a mask-less stroll through the Grim Dell, or the mask-less family who sits in the Sunken Garden chairs frequently used by students, or even the macho motorcyclist who walks into Wawa without a mask to cover his neo-Confederate beard, right past a sign reading “Masks Required.”
I have given no names, yet many readers will know exactly who I am talking about. After all, we are a public university, and these locals and tourists are neither the first nor the last to walk onto our campus. I just hope that the College understands this too when, if there is indeed a COVID-19 outbreak, their first instinct is to pounce on the students alone.
Email Lucas Harsche at