Last year was a year like no other on campus, due to the looming threat of COVID-19. Thankfully, campus life has mostly returned to normal, but there are still a few leftover policies from last year I believe have overstayed their welcome. In particular, the surveillance testing requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and continued mask mandate imposed by the school for most places on campus. While it made sense to implement these initiatives last year because there was still limited information on the virus, our understanding and means of protection against the virus have drastically changed over the past several months.
For starters, once the vaccines became available to the general public around the start of spring, panic about contracting the disease became increasingly unjustified given the proven effectiveness that the vaccines have been shown to have. While there was a significant case to be made that surveillance testing helped to reduce infections across campus by means of quarantine, there is virtually no benefit to keeping this policy after this semester. Even last year, the effectiveness of these surveillance tests in preventing the spread varied at best due to the highly contagious nature of the virus. The vaccines offer immense protection against serious illness from the virus and a decent layer of protection from even getting the virus. With this information, coupled with the University’s vaccine mandate (with more than 95% of the community being fully vaccinated), COVID-testing for even the unvaccinated students seems less based on actual science and more of an initiative dictated by unwarranted fear.
In addition, continuing surveillance testing after this semester would serve to waste money on an initiative that is no longer needed. With a guaranteed 5% of the student body having to undergo twice-weekly testing, as well as the portion of vaccinated students who get randomly selected this week, the cost to supply testing resources is definitely nothing to mock. The money saved from discontinuing testing protocols can go towards other student-led organizations, as well as aiding in dining hall facilities and helping to reduce the staffing shortage dilemma.
Moving onto the mask mandates, this has become a topic that has met with much controversy both on campus and across the country through political debates. While there have been studies that show that masking helps in reducing risk of exposure to COVID-19, almost all of the peer-reviewed ones fail to account for factors such as wearing masks correctly at all times as well as usage of masks more than once. The CDC states that you should replace or wash a mask after each use which is not realistic for many people. In addition, there has been mixed information regarding the effectiveness of cloth masks with the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and President Joe Biden’s former COVID-19 advisor Michael Osterholm saying that face cloth coverings are not very effective in stopping the spread. On campus, the majority of people I see wear cloth masks, as opposed to the N-95 masks that are extremely effective in preventing infection. Also, this campus is one of the safest places to be in the area without the needless masking requirement, due to the vaccine mandate.
According to the CDC, since October 20 of this year, 7,148 vaccinated people have died out of the 190 million who have received the shot, with about 85% of those people being over the age of 65. This alone should be a sign that these extra precautions are no longer required and are merely theatrical.
The vaccines have proven to be the best way to fight against COVID-19, and the continued vaccine and mask mandates across the country only serve to delegitimize this inarguable fact. Efforts such as bi-weekly testing for the unvaccinated here on campus, which don’t make sense since you can still test positive between the multiple day gaps in between testing, are ultimately no longer needed anymore.
The risk on campus that COVID-19 brings is lower than most common diseases we have learned to live with over the years.
I respect those who wish to get tested or wear a mask if they choose to do so, but this should not be imposed at this point but instead should be optional. Living with risk is something that everybody accepts on a daily basis, as doing so has allowed for us to put incredible ideas into action rather than being in an enclosed bubble with no sign of progression. Required masking and surveillance testing are no longer a necessary part of campus life, and getting rid of these aspects next semester is something that I believe is in line with the science and will truly lead to a return to normalcy.