A week ago I published a post in which I campaigned to free the vaccinated from Covid restrictions. As if on cue, the Centers for Disease Control today issued new guidelines recommending that vaccinated people end masking and social distancing in all but a few highly specialized settings like hospitals and airplanes.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky stated that not only do those vaccinated have a very low risk of getting Covid themselves, but it is also most likely not to pass it on to others. As I noted in my post last week, these risks are actually much lower than those we routinely accept during a normal flu season, which very few consider mandatory masking and social distancing. If the normally over-cautious CDC now recommends ending Covid restrictions on those who have been vaccinated, it is a strong indication that this is really the way to go.
In this post, I want to take up the impact on universities and suggest that they should lift virtually all on-campus Covid restrictions for the vaccinated. Most of my considerations from last week’s post also apply to the university environment. Constant masking and social distancing are a heavy burden. If you stop it for the people being vaccinated, it will reduce the vaccine’s hesitation. In some cases, further imposition of restrictions on the vaccinated is contrary to constitutional rights.
The latter point does not apply to private universities. However, this applies to public institutions where they restrict student activities where constitutional rights are exercised, e.g. B. Protests, religious gatherings and others.
In addition to these general considerations, there are a number of reasons why the liberation in the university context is even stronger than in most other situations.
A key factor is that masking and social distancing affect the quality of personal education. Both science and common sense show that facial expressions are an important form of non-verbal communication. And communication is an integral part of what education is all about! When standing in front of a class of masked students, I often find it difficult to “read” the audience and how they will react to what I say. Are you alert or bored? Do you “understand”? Likewise, if they cannot see my face, students cannot read my expression. And as most experienced speakers will tell you, facial expressions are an important part of the way we get our points across to the audience. All of which makes me a less effective teacher. And I suspect I’m a long way from the only professor who applies.
It is often difficult for both students and faculty to make themselves heard while wearing a mask in a large classroom. This is especially true for people with low voices, including many women. Trying to “solve” this problem by passing around a microphone is cumbersome and time consuming.
Social distancing rules also hinder education. They make it impossible to use our teaching capacity to the full (which is a serious problem for institutions with limited space). They also hinder a wide variety of extracurricular activities on campus, many of which are of high educational value on their own. I will not try to discuss the point in detail here. But I think last year’s experience has shown that while online education is far better than nothing, it cannot completely replace nearly all lost face-to-face interactions.
A second reason the covid mandates waiver is stronger in university settings than elsewhere is that it is generally easier to tell the difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the previous environment. Almost every student and employee at most universities must already have a university ID. It shouldn’t be difficult to add a “V” for vaccinated individuals to the identification cards of those who received their shots. Then universities can use the ID system to enforce remaining Covid rules (assuming all are justified at all) only against the unvaccinated.
In addition, hundreds of universities have already issued vaccination mandates for all students and staff who will be on campus this fall. More are likely to follow. If there is a vaccination mandate, virtually everyone on campus will be vaccinated anyway, and the risk of spreading it will be even less.
With that in mind, most universities have few, if any, people under the age of 12 on campus (the population is still not eligible for vaccination). This eliminates the possibility of the disease spreading to children (although it is highly unlikely to spread from vaccinated adults).
If necessary, it should not be difficult to obtain proof of vaccination from guest speakers and other campus visitors who come during the regular academic year. The audience at graduation and sporting events could be more challenging. In this case, however, they should be treated as special cases that require their own rules. Many such events are definitely held outdoors, where the risk is minimal, even for the unvaccinated.
What about students and faculties who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or for whom the vaccination does not work well (e.g. due to immunodeficiency)? Such people make up a very small part of the population. And even they will receive a great deal of protection from the fact that almost everyone around them on campus will be vaccinated (and therefore most likely not to spread).
However, it is possible that this group may need specific protective measures. Universities already have special accommodation for students and faculties with various types of disabilities (e.g. those whose hearing or vision is impaired). A similar housing model can be used to protect those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid. For example, they could potentially be assigned seats some distance away from the rest of the class if there is specific personal protective equipment (PPE) or even a combination of both. Such special accommodations for a small minority should be easier and cheaper to manage than masking and social distancing everyone.
The details of the accommodations may vary from case to case. I have to leave these details to those who have the relevant expertise. I just want to point out that an accommodation model is far preferable to general restrictions for everyone on campus.
The problem of religious objections to vaccination could be more difficult. But in practice it will likely affect only a tiny minority of people in most university settings. To the best of my knowledge (I welcome the correction by experts!) No major religious denomination in the USA rejects the Covid vaccination for religious reasons. Even Christian scientists (who speak out against many other types of modern medical care) do not categorically oppose vaccination.
However, some students and university staff may speak out against vaccination for idiosyncratic religious reasons. However, there are likely to be very few such cases. In my view, it can be reasonable to give such refusers an exemption from vaccination requirements when there are really few. But there is certainly a reason to deny it. I’m not going to try to solve this problem here other than to point out that it’s probably not a big problem.
The United States has hundreds of colleges and universities in different settings. I am not claiming that my approach works for every single institution. Some may have special circumstances that I am not aware of. Even in otherwise “normal” schools, there may be some special settings that require heightened precautions (especially university hospitals at the schools where they are present).
But the points I am making should at least be relevant to a large number of schools. Even some of the exceptional cases could at least partially lift the restrictions.
In a post that I wrote almost exactly a year ago, I spoke out in favor of resuming personal university education, but also recognized the need for various restrictions, since Covid is seriously threatened. Many universities, including my own, have successfully used such restrictions to safely continue personal education during these troubled times.
However, the introduction of highly effective mass vaccination is a cornerstone. It is time to free vaccinated students, faculty and staff from Covid restrictions that only serve to prolong misery and hamper the educational process.