Despite low COVID-19 rates amongst students and faculty, there are still considerable flaws in the manner in which safety measures are being presented, enforced and followed. But with such a high vaccination rate amongst students and faculty, does the lack of regulation ultimately matter?
As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I wasn’t able to witness the university’s initial response to COVID-19, so I decided to do some research. For others like me who weren’t in Madison to experience the peak of COVID last year, I’ll catch you all up.
Hardly a week after classes began, Chancellor Blank suddenly switched the university over to virtual learning and placed the two largest southeast dorms of Witte and Sellery on a two week lockdown. By late November, the university advised students planning to travel for the Thanksgiving recess to not return until the Spring semester.
Considering how things declined rapidly one year ago, I somewhat expected that I would move from my hometown and transition into dorm life, begin classes and then have it all mean close to nothing because the school was going to be shut down, like last year. But here we are, still standing.
Ultimately, this seeks to answer the question of how has the university worked to ensure that the chaos of last year isn’t repeated?
As of Oct. 18, 94.9% of the faculty and 94% of students have received the vaccine. In regard to the university and local health officials’ campus vaccine promotion, vaccination percentages have been on the incline as the semester progresses, but we know there is more to limiting the spread of COVID-19 than simply relying on vaccination.
The regulations have been rather straightforward. The only real distinction in the way that rules have been enforced has to do with vaccination status. Unvaccinated students must get tested once a week, whereas vaccinated students don’t have any obligation for testing.
Every other rule is essentially universal. Masks are required while inside all university buildings, with few exceptions. Social distancing hasn’t been required, which is only surprising because of its close association with COVID policies since the beginning of the pandemic.
When it comes to lecture halls and classrooms, I’d say mask enforcement hasn’t been an issue at all. Practically every student is visible from the instructor’s point of view, and nobody wants to be that person in the lecture without a mask. Other university buildings follow a similar trend. Masks are never an issue when a staff member is near or visible. The issue is that lecture halls are the only buildings with consistent mask usage.
I live in Witte. Although I have not been inside every residence hall, those I have seen all feature a communal lounge for each dorm floor. From spending time in such lounges, I’ve seen how masks are rarely worn voluntarily in these areas. The enforcement of masking protocol falls solely on student housing employees, who happen to be only a few years older than most residents, typically. In a monotonous cycle, student housing employees remind each maskless person to cover their nose and mouth, but then the student employees leave the room and the masks go back down.
Now realistically, it wouldn’t be practical for the university to constantly enforce masking in every nook and cranny of every university building; They don’t have the staff or the resources. More so, treating college students like children would undermine the maturity of the college experience.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance where it feels like there are holes in the university’s protocol. Everybody loves going to football games, but it is no secret that these games feel like potential super-spreader events. While masks are meant to be worn when indoors, in places such as food courts and bathrooms, masking in these places are, in fact, few and far between.
When it comes down to it, how have these regulations translated to test results? Despite these flaws, however, the university is maintaining relatively low positive test rates.
In terms of single-day totals: 67 stands as the highest number of positive cases between faculty and staff back on Sep. 16. During the month of October, we have only passed 20 positive cases once.
While I believe we should still wear masks, it is also important to acknowledge that the strongest weapon that we’ve had against the pandemic are the vaccines. My point is that the university believes in vaccines too, but they are relying on vaccines to cover up the lack of policy enforcement. Instead of a powerful tool, vaccines are now essentially perceived as band-aids.
The university likely anticipated a few major events with super-spreader capabilities, such as move-in week or the various home football games. Now that we’ve gotten through some of those, the university just doesn’t seem to care anymore. We still have to wear masks until at least late November, and likely for a while there after.
Now that the university is simply waiting for further direction from the government without effectively enforcing their current regulations, expecting students to follow these measures feels rather futile, especially when there are no consequences to disobeying regulation.
We will eventually reach a point where COVID-19 is behind us, but that day is not today. There are still considerable amounts of the Madison population that are not vaccinated and/or face additional health-related concerns. I understand how easy it is to take advantage of the lack of safety enforcement, but I implore you to have some empathy. Also, just wear a damn mask.
Donnie Slusher is a freshman majoring in journalism. Do you believe vaccines are causing inconsistent COVID-19 mandate enforcement? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.