The pandemic, as we know it, has not been easy for anyone. It would be easy to ask anyone on the street about their experience with COVID-19, especially about the effects the pandemic has had on them. Whether it were events cancelled, the loss of a job or even a loss of a family member, the list goes on about the vast repercussions the global killer has caused. Yet there is a key question in everyone’s mind: When does it end?
We all have seen domestically that many states have started to ease their stringent COVID-19 restrictions in response to high vaccination rates and lower positivity rates of cases. This would cause anyone in their right mind to be somewhat optimistic for what the future holds; to the common man these restrictions were equal to, if not worse than, the pandemic itself.
This optimism is hard to obtain and keep steady, as many of the institutions we live by have yet to act similarly to these optimistic states. There is no reason to have many of the same restrictive policies that were needed when the pandemic began.
Now, this is not a plea to say that COVID-19 is any type of myth, as it is important to note the effect this virus has had on a majority of the country — with the death toll slowly approaching 600 thousand Americans. However, the approach UW-Madison and other universities took around the country was similar to that of the national approach.
The university subjected their students to restrictive policies that had little room for flexibility based on the public health standards at the time. Even as positivity rates have declined and vaccinations have gone up, the little wiggle-room that was given by our federal government was the allowance of mask-less individuals outside when not in large groups. This pseudo-retraction of restrictive policy is barely a baby step, as we have seen across the country many states’ mask mandates had little definition for masks outside, rather requiring them in public and crowded places.
However, the constant roll out of various types of vaccines should allow for some of these restrictions to slowly go away. These vaccines should be considered almost as a godsend; for example, the Pfizer vaccine has shown in most cases to be 95% effective against infection and 100% effective against extreme illness.
This was similar to other vaccines as well, where Moderna had a similar effectiveness, and the disputed Johnson and Johnson even had a somewhat effective rate. However, the key to these vaccines is their effectiveness at preventing severe illness, as this was one of the main reasons COVID-19 became such a political matter in the first place.
Now, if these vaccines are highly effective at both preventing severe illness and the spread of COVID-19, along with readily available to the general public and those deemed high risk, what is the problem for the student body of UW-Madison to study at the library in an individual study room without a mask?
In talks with Clinical Professor Emeritus John Swartzberg of Infectious Disease at the University of California Berkeley, he explained his own opinion on this specific policy that UW-Madison has, and where the university’s logic may be.
“Face-value, it does not seem like a wise policy but behind it we need to know how good the air exchanges are in the room, as a lack of air exchange can lead to higher transmission rates,” he said.
Swartzberg also talked about how it would likely not be a problem for someone to be maskless in an individual room if they are fully vaccinated, but if someone were to not be fully vaccinated and use the room before another non-vaccinated student, then there is a greater risk of infection.
While science is and should be the supreme-backing for any COVID-19 policy, large swaths of the general public will only take this policy for its “face-value.” Why is it that interpreting this policy with a surface-level logic is such a bad thing?
This is a generalized problem that not only UW-Madison’s campus is experiencing, but the entire nation, as there is a lack of trust that the science behind COVID-19 protocols actually matters — therefore leading to an innate ignorance of understanding for specific policy.
The question of why this policy and many others exist becomes even more prevalent when the vaccination rate for the student body and faculty is currently at 57%. This data is based on information from the UW COVID dashboard and fact page.
This brings the larger idea that if the concept of a vaccine is not the key to a way of life without the restrictions of a pandemic, where is the incentive to get a vaccine in the first place? Why should someone take the risk, albeit an extremely small one, of getting an injection of a substance that lacks a true FDA approval when, as of right now, their vaccination does little to nothing for their way of life?
Some may think that this is a selfish way of thinking but this is realistic, at least for an average person who most likely had a mild case of COVID-19 already and is otherwise barely affected by the pandemic aside from the restrictive policies. They would likely not see the overall benefit to a vaccination.
Some of these policies were also an overreach into students’ liberties. It was interesting to find that housing residents are technically being tracked by the university for “security and safety purposes.” Every time a resident scans their Wiscard at the entrance of their residence hall, a timestamp is sent into a computer system where it is stored. While this is not directly stated in the housing contract, the university claims that since a resident uses their Wiscard to scan into their residence hall, they are allowed to store this timestamp for a period of time because the Wiscard is university property.
It seems odd that this tracking of a portion of its students as an overreach into their lives was an important policy to the composers of UW-Madison’s COVID-19 response, as they believe that keeping tabs on student’s whereabouts will aid in stopping infection. However, if they don’t allow more than one housing guest per resident in a room and make masks required in any other area than a resident’s room, why is that tracking needed? There is no logical answer for this, other than the unwarranted lack of trust the university has with its student body.
The obvious answer to why these policies haven’t been adapted and overturned is most definitely the university’s laziness. It’s common knowledge that a large portion of the student body will not be on campus for the summer time, so why should the university change its policies at this point in time?
Well, we have seen a downward trend in positive cases since the middle of February and an uptick in vaccinations from this same time period. Even with the uncertainty of this virus, there was some type of trust with the logic of the science behind these restrictive protocols.
If the solution to COVID-19 was fewer positive cases and more vaccinations, the university did an inadequate job at giving their students the liberty they work so very hard to deserve.
Ethan is a Sophomore studying Political Science and Journalism.