Opinion: The rise of monkeypox and the unpredictability of our upcoming academic year
How gruesome should the next pandemic be for the AU administration to value life over profit?
Picture this scenario: imagine a multi-country outbreak of a zoonotic disease occurring and case numbers starting to rise in the city where your college is located. You await an official University response that at least acknowledges the presence of said disease, only to receive emails thanking another million-dollar donation and negligence in drafting a contract with the AU Staff Union. No need to close your eyes to imagine this. This is our current reality.
Monkeypox is an orthopox virus that spreads via inhalation and direct and indirect contact transmission. A person can get affected by inhaling live particles in the air, touching an infected person with your bare skin or touching an infected object that an infected person has touched in the last 3-18 months. The incubation period of monkeypox ranges from five to 21 days. The infectious phase is a 28-day minimum, with symptoms lasting from two to four weeks, including skin eruption over the body and face, fever, severe headaches and intense lack of energy.
Disregarding this virus and not taking proper precautions, as many have done during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is not a risk we should take. Persons under the age of 40 are most susceptible to contracting the virus and complications of having monkeypox include constricted lung airways (bronchopneumonia), inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), loss of vision and permanent disfiguration.
The first confirmed orthopox virus case in D.C. was on June 4 and from that day forth, the district currently has 214 confirmed cases, the seventh highest-ranked region in the U.S. with the highest number of monkeypox transmissions. The messaging spread about the orthopox virus breakout and the current eligibility for a monkeypox vaccine is violently homophobic and stigmatizing toward queer men, transgender women and nonbinary people. With D.C. and other U.S. regions limiting vaccines to primarily gay and bisexual men and persons assigned male-at-birth, it can lead to the virus being twisted as a political weapon against queer people, whose rights have been recently challenged. Centering monkeypox incorrectly as a sexually transmitted infection not only allows for incorrect precautions to be followed but will likely mimic the same systemic marginalization against gay men that occurred in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
As a campus that prides itself in being an affirming space for the LGBTQ+ community and has a large queer student population, it’s imperative to denounce the stigma followed by monkeypox and reaffirm to students that their queer identity is not a deadly disease. As it’s likely that queer men on campus will face scrutiny in discussions surrounding the orthopox virus, the AU administration should urge faculty and students to be intentional about framing.
While an official University response is pending, I wouldn’t be surprised if AU’s campus remains mask-optional because of the said “rarity” of contracting the virus and precautions are limited to maintaining cleanliness. With in-person classes that span an hour and a half or more, claims about the transmission being very low become faulty as monkeypox spreads through prolonged respiratory secretions. In addition, large residential halls, like Anderson Hall, which houses 770 residents, have a high likelihood of transmission with the transfer of clothing and bedding in laundry rooms and gatherings in floor lounges. Georgetown University recently had a presumptive case of monkeypox from a community member living near the Main Campus, with individuals identified through contact tracing. Most of the student population traveling to AU come from New York and New Jersey, the states with the highest number of transmissions; at the time of publication, New York had 1,247 cases and New Jersey had 110 cases. Combined with that reality and students returning from international travel, health concerns are inevitable.
Suppose the administration ultimately decides to continue with normal operations. In that case, a detailed plan and roadmap should be in development that concerns how isolation housing with a virus with a 21-day infectious phase will be conducted. This should be paired with strict, regulated community masking guidelines. It’s more critical than ever to involve disabled communities and advocacy groups, such as the Disabled Student Union, in these conversations, as they’re often mistreated in “community care” procedures.
For students living with roommates, it is important to follow the following precautions instructed by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to lower your chance of contracting monkeypox:
- Clean all produce in an EPA-approved disinfectant, such as Electrolyzed Hypochlorous (HOCI) water or Hydrogen Peroxide (H202).
- Cook all animal meats thoroughly and wash your clothing with hot water.
- Disinfect all cans, bottles and packaging before opening.
- Be wary of attending clubs, parties, festivals and any large social setting with limited space that can cause bare skin rubbing between persons.
I implore the AU community not to view this as fear-mongering but as an immediate call to action to maintain this virus as “low risk.” These times of uncertainty make it unknown how many threats to our immune system are enough to change the course of our futures.
Kayla Kelly is a rising senior in the School of Public Affairs and the opinion managing editor for The Eagle.