As the University of Wisconsin-Madison nears a 93% rate of fully vaccinated students, there have yet to be substantial changes to its policies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary, many have even called for greater restrictions. Though, one must ask: why?
Could it be from the constant headline of 100,000+ new COVID cases every day? Those lobbying for stricter policies fail to realize that new cases are barely the problem and are far from the central issue this pandemic has brought to our society.
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, we were inundated with fears as to the fatality of the virus. Before vaccines, COVID related deaths were only preventable from precautionary social practices: social distancing and wearing a mask. In lacking a more effective means of protection, almost 300,000 people died before vaccines were emergently approved by the FDA on Dec. 11, 2020.
The production and distribution of vaccines completely changed our idea of COVID overall. Many health professionals predicted that herd immunity could be achieved faster by administering widespread vaccines. In validating these claims, April 2021 saw a steep drop-off in COVID-19 cases due to the increasing rate of fully vaccinated people.
It has remained clear that vaccines prevent infection — but more importantly — hospitalization and death. This has been the principle of all COVID policy up until the Delta variant. The new belief is that while vaccinated people can still become infected, known as breakthrough cases, with the Delta Variant, the fully-vaccinated are still well-protected against hospitalization and death — the two facets of why COVID is such a horrific phenomenon.
If the overwhelming majority of our campus — as vaccinated people — are still protected from death and hospitalization, it makes zero logical sense to care about an increase in cases, especially if the majority of them are unvaccinated individuals. Yes, these unvaccinated individuals are more at risk of having severe complications, but, realistically, they have had ample chances to get the vaccine. The fully-vaccinated should not be blamed for the increase in cases, nor should they bear harsh restrictions and safety protocols for the lapse in judgement on the part of the unvaccinated.
Evidently, UW-Madison thinks otherwise. Restrictive policies persist because of the 7% who remain unvaccinated. To put it bluntly, UW-Madison students are not dying from this virus. The high vaccination rates and age demographic of college students provides logical reasoning to trend back towards normalcy.
Sure, the 7% who remain unvaccinated should get constantly tested for the virus. Their lives should be nowhere near normal until they put aside their misinformed beliefs.
But, for the nearly 93% of students who are fully-vaccinated, there is no reason to subject them to restrictive policy, especially if this policy is hypocritical. Why is the student body allowed to attend a 70,000 person football game maskless — packed into the bleacher seats like sardines — but are required to cover our mouth and nose in a 15 person discussion section?
Scientists have explained the logic behind masking inside, but not outside, as this is purely for airflow. It is reasoned that the higher airflow present in the outdoors will generally “blow away” any potential COVID particles produced by someone’s mouth. This is unlikely to occur with a lower airflow, experienced in indoor settings and buildings, where these potential particles will lack the force to be “blown away.”
Logically speaking, is this idea of “airflow” even relevant when so many people are close together? I for one find it baffling that the people in charge of the university think this way.
More so, UW-Madison’s policy furthers COVID-19 paranoia. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs about the virus, especially if they are high-risk, but subjecting everyone, regardless of vaccination status and risk category, to policy that has barely changed since the vaccine was released implies that COVID is still as deadly as it was.
In drawing on the consequences of policies unreflective of current times, one UW-Madison student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said to me that he was “kicked out of class for coughing twice.” Even though masks are thoroughly worn in the classroom, an innocent student, who is vaccinated and could have coughed for a multitude of reasons, was forced to leave his learning environment over fear from the professor.
As vaccines have become widespread, society as a whole is not being harmed the same as it was at the start of the pandemic. In other words, those that are vaccinated are not at the same risk of becoming hospitalized and dying.
Our community as a whole needs to realize the true facts of this virus, and how a vaccinated status is the answer for a sense of normalcy. It is time for this logic to reach the UW-Madison officials in charge of policy making, as a higher percentage of fully vaccinated students should induce less restrictive policy. This would include no masks and dismissing the thought of required testing for vaccinated individuals.
We as a society need to remember that this virus impacted our lives because of the rates of hospitalization and fatality. As these effects are minimal on the fully-vaccinated majority of our campus, maintaining restrictive mandates is irrational and hypocritical.
Ethan Wollins is a sophomore majoring in political science and journalism. Do you think university policies are non-reflective of the current state of the pandemic? Send all comments to Opinion@dailycardinal.com.