Opinion: Here we go again

The University ignores reality in reinstituting mask mandate

Opinion: Here we go again

Here we go again. After lifting the mask mandate a mere month after requiring KN95s, the University instituted another mask mandate. Once again, hiding behind the veil of “comprehensive health and safety measures,” the University obfuscates to avoid having to produce evidence backed by public health officials supporting the mandate. Citing increased case numbers without citing a change in CDC guidelines or D.C. Public Health guidance, the University has made a unilateral decision based on flimsy evidence that ignores what even the White House has said, that our focus needs to shift from crisis mode to management mode. 

Science does not back up reinstituting this mandate. Although there's a spike in case numbers, there’s been a 14-day 22 percent decline in hospitalizations. There have been three deaths in D.C. since March 10. The George Washington University Hospital currently has seven coronavirus patients, while the Howard University Hospital has zero. Former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem writes that we are in a stage of adaptive recovery, “a long period in which the virus persists but Americans figure out how best to manage it…it’s not anti-science to recognize that not all decisions are matters of science.” 

There will be no definitive end to the pandemic. We must make trade-offs, public policy positions and real-time judgments recognizing that we are not in a March 2020 crisis mode. But if you dare question the University's COVID-19 policies, many students automatically frame you as a Trump-supporting anti-vaxxer. 

I ask students and administration: when do you believe we should lift the mask mandate? No American University administration official nor any student I’ve talked to has ever outlined specifically when that should be. Do we pursue a zero-COVID-19 policy like China, which has been proven to be a catastrophic effort that has fomented chaos, food shortages and violent autocratic crackdowns on civilians? The University has never outlined a metric by which mask mandates will be reinstated. Is it a certain number of cases? Is it the death rate? Is it hospital capacity in the DMV? Right now, it seems as though the University makes these decisions based on what they feel like on a particular day or what Georgetown does. 

Liberal universities have become islands in terms of their COVID-19 policies. From the beginning, AU and other universities across America have pursued overly aggressive COVID-19 policies, while states and municipalities have been more measured in their approach. Couple this with unprofessional flip-flopping and the University foments deep distrust within the University community. This reinstituted mask mandate is the University cowering to the woke mob at our school, who would rather virtue signal with their mask than acknowledge the new reality we live in. This mandate reflects an administration that believes they know better than D.C. Public Health, the CDC and students to make our own decisions about our health. 

The CDC’s data shows that the people severely affected by the coronavirus are unvaccinated, not the 99 percent of AU students who are fully vaccinated. For the fully vaccinated, hospitalization rates are declining. The unvaccinated are straining the health care system, not fully vaccinated college students. In one hospital in Florida, unvaccinated patients made up more than 90 percent of COVID-19 patients. Our focus needs to shift from case numbers to hospitalizations rates and death rates of the fully vaccinated because that is the composition of the AU population. Our population isn’t severely at-risk enough to warrant extraordinary measures like KN95 mask mandates.

Some will say that the University mask mandate is necessary because though most will not be hospitalized, immunocompromised students are at risk. However, there are effective vaccines, boosters and treatments for the virus, such as monoclonal antibodies and the new Pfizer pills treating those with serious illnesses. We must make necessary trade-offs between the expectations of the most risk-averse people and entering into a recovery phase. This decision does not discount the AU Disabled Student Union’s push for mandatory testing. The previously announced surveillance testing is a good response to the concerns of immunocompromised students. I only acknowledge that COVID-19 mitigation measures are a public-policy issue, not a public health one. The CDC will always tell us to take maximum precautionary measures to overcompensate for the non-compliant, those not getting vaccinated or being quarantined. Furthermore, a mandate is no longer effective when it is instituted, then removed, then reinstituted on a continuous cycle. They no longer work when people don’t have confidence in that mandate. 

I will repeat what I have been saying for months: masks are not necessary on a fully-boosted college campus. Effective treatments are available and we’re in a time where hospitalizations and deaths are not increasing. Nothing will be done by the end of this semester, but the University should commit to optional masks for Fall 2022. We deserve clarity at a time when clarity is now an option after two long years of uncertainty.

Stephen Ailinger is a sophomore in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.

sailinger@theeagleonline.com 

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