At the end of last school year, we had an Angles section dedicated to how Augustana should return to campus. Now that we know more about what this school year will look like, it’s a topic worth revisiting.
The decision to continue wearing masks was a controversial one. However, certain restrictions have been loosened this year. Classrooms are no longer required to be sanitized after every use and classes and events no longer have to be socially distanced.
Despite the rise in the number of people in the U.S. who are vaccinated as well as the official FDA full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, it’s still important to consider the potential danger of the delta variant.
Yes, students should protect themselves
Following a hopeful summer filled with exciting news regarding the coronavirus and its potential cessation, Augustana announced on Aug. 11 that the university would require masks on campus for the fall semester in accordance with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines. While an estimated 60% of all Augustana students had reported their confirmed vaccination status at the time, studies were showing that vaccinated individuals — even though highly protected from serious illness — were still able to contract and transmit the virus.
Many Augustana students hung their heads in frustration and confusion at the decision as they watched their friends attending state institutions return to school maskless. However, when addressing what’s best for the Augustana community, can it be said that the COVID-19 protocols in place are valid and the correct decision? When analyzing and observing the nature of the predominant variant in the United States, the answer is yes.
In an Aug. 26 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article, data suggests that the delta variant is twice as contagious as previous variants. Additional studies from Canada and Scotland support that the variant is causing more severe illness in unvaccinated individuals, who remain the biggest concern regarding the virus.
In order to continue making strides toward normalcy and encourage the health and well-being of its students, Augustana offered incentives for students to receive their vaccination, such as gift cards and the promise of one day returning to pre-pandemic conditions.
In an article by Arianna Prothero and Sarah Sparks in Education Week, Dr. Michael Smith, a pediatric professor at Duke said, “Vaccination is number one, but masking is number two and is therefore the most effective way to reduce spread of COVID in settings where people cannot be vaccinated.”
Unfortunately, with the delta variant and its ability to spread to those who are vaccinated, it’s critical that masks be required indoors on campus to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, vaccinated or not.
So what changed so drastically over the summer? When the university allowed vaccinated students to go maskless on May 13, there were 15 new cases reported. Comparing that to numbers from Sept. 8, there were 205 new cases reported with a seven-day average of 62 cases.
According to the New York Times, in May, only 35.8% of the United States was fully vaccinated whereas today, that number has risen to 53.3%.
As we continue to work toward normalcy, it’s important for students to remember that the guidelines are not to punish people, but rather to maintain the in-person learning environment on campus while many other schools across the nation are still learning from home. By doing our part and getting vaccinated as well as wearing masks indoors, students can expect to see the precautions put in place beginning to lift as we remember that we all share the same goal.
No, precautions have done their job
At the end of last semester we knew we were going forward. The whole campus felt the positive change: almost no cases in the last few weeks and the promise of a regular start for the fall semester.
At the start of this semester, we all felt we were almost there. We might not be starting the year like usual, but we are getting very close. Vaccination rates are still rising, and the whole campus is doing their best to wear masks when necessary, inside any building and hallway. If the campus keeps this up we are looking forward to a pre-COVID-19-like campus.
Since the start of fall semester, vaccination rates have been rising. As of today, 82.24% of the community (employees and students) are fully vaccinated and a total of 83.97% are in the vaccination process.
Momentarily, there are only two confirmed cases on campus. This is an extremely low number which we can all be proud of. Which also means that the campus is on alert level one — low. This of course has a direct correlation with the precautions that are implemented on campus. Every precaution, no matter how small or big, has done its job to keep us all safe and to get us to where we are today.
The most important part of the precautions has been the vaccination. The university has so far done an amazing job to make sure everybody who wants to get vaccinated has had the chance to. Even the people who are not vaccinated are continuously persuaded to receive it by multiple different approaches. There is, for instance, a massive amount of opportunities to get a shot on and off campus through the university. Besides that, people who are still in doubt are being lured into taking their shots through lucrative opportunities. Every student or staff member who is fully vaccinated within the coming weeks can look forward to $500 (staff) or $150 (students).
Besides the vaccination rates, another important precaution is the wearing of masks. As I mentioned earlier, masks are mandatory inside every building as long as people are not eating or drinking. The university has been doing a great job to both make it possible for students to wear a mask, by making them accessible and free throughout the whole campus, and by making sure everybody is properly wearing their masks. Whether it is through giving out special Augie masks during the introduction week for freshmen or by going easy on people who forgot their mask, the university is doing their best.
As far as the rest of the precautions go, I personally think that Augustana is also doing an amazing job. The COVID-19 precautions in place are all working out in such a way that every student can participate in their favorite activities on and around campus. Such as intramurals, club competitions and weekly events.