COVID isn’t over, so don’t act like it is

Guilford’s vaccine mandate goes into effect Oct. 15. While a large majority of the student population is currently vaccinated, all students will have been vaccinated or have a relevant medical/religious exemption after that cutoff date if they want to remain on campus.

Vaccine mandates have unfortunately become a political issue, in part because anti-vaccine rhetoric has been a loud fringe idea for the past decade and in part because the COVID-19 vaccine itself has become an unfortunately political issue. The result has been disastrous for the United States at large, especially for various states across the South, where infection rates have spiked.

Fortunately, Guilford has so far been spared the indignity of having any organized “anti-mask” or “anti-vaccine” protests, as the community at large both understands the reasons to get vaccinated and the reasons behind the mandate itself.

However, despite a more understanding attitude, Guilford has not been without some scares of its own. In just the last week the detection of a cluster of infections sent the campus back to Phase Two, pushing classes online for a week and reverting dining options to take-out only. 

It is likely that this will happen again, even after the vaccine mandate. A number of factors could be blamed, but to my mind the main cause of infection going forward will simply be students getting too relaxed about the campus’s protocols. While students might mostly follow the rule of having no off-campus guests, it’s an implausible policy to actively police. Furthermore, to some students, this policy may not seem like a big deal. Similarly, as masks become less necessary with the national lift of the mask mandate, students might forget to wear them when they’re actually necessary, which in turn causes risk for further spread. 

None of these on their own will lead to a massive campus-wide outbreak, but due to the contagious nature of this virus, all it takes is a handful of students getting infected for scores of other students to get infected—so what’s the effective counterplay?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything to do beyond remaining diligent about following safety protocols. The best thing you can do against a pandemic is keep yourself safe, and by extension, reduce the risk of infecting others or having them infect you. 

If the only way to prevent things from getting worse is to follow the rules, how can Guilford raise awareness? While the College does send out frequent updates from the COVID-19 Task Force, how often students read those emails is a matter of debate. Personally, I would think the College could stand to gain a lot through basic actions like providing masks for students, which remind everyone of the fact that they should be wearing them. It wouldn’t be much, but it would hopefully be a start. And as much as I would like to advocate for simply posting more rules, I saw firsthand how infrequently the hand sanitizer in the dining hall was used when it became a requirement to use the utensils during our temporary move back to Phase Two.

I want to believe that our campus and student body will do the right things and stay on target, but at the same time I can understand all the reasons students might ignore protocols on occasion, whether it’s just to meet up with friends or to enjoy social experiences that have been notably absent from student life in the past year due to the ongoing pandemic.

There may not be one right answer in the end, but awareness is a good place to start.