Should COVID-19 mandates be removed just yet? Photo of Ohio’s statehouse courtesy of Flickr.
As a university, we are approaching an anniversary we thought we’d never see: one year living with COVID-19.
In early March 2020, the university, the country, and the entire world shut down for a two-week quarantine to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now, almost a year later the United States is still struggling to contain the virus.
This year has been bleak, but it has not been entirely futile. Several major drug companies have pushed the boundaries of science to produce safe and effective vaccines in record time. The rollout has been rough, with many states still struggling to distribute it to the most vulnerable populations.
A vaccine seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel that we have all been aimlessly walking through for a year. I remember last spring health officials would repeat that if we just had a vaccine, we could put COVID-19 in the past. Now, here we are with three FDA-approved vaccines, ready to claim our reward for isolating and masking-up for a year.
But because of the slow vaccine rollout, we are not ready as a country to return to normalcy. No one wants to admit that, but it is true for our current situation.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbot announced that Texas will be completely reopening and dropping its mask mandate by March 10. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed an executive order the same day to end COVID-19 restrictions for his state. Both governors said that cases and hospitalizations were massively decreasing and that access to vaccines was increasing, allowing for the mandates to be lifted.
This is an incredibly dangerous move, and it is one that I am glad to see hasn’t motivated Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. As a prominent Republican governor during the pandemic, Ohioans looked to DeWine to gauge whether the state would be following in the footsteps of Texas and Mississippi. DeWine said Ohio would not lift its mask mandate in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of the unvaccinated.
Ohio’s current return on positive COVID-19 cases is at 4.3 percent, while Texas and Mississippi sit at 11.8 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. Only 7.7 percent of Ohioans, 6.2 percent of Texans and 7.1 percent of Mississippians have received both doses of the vaccine.
The numbers do not support reopening states, even a year out from the initial shut down. The only thing that reopening will achieve at this point is the perpetuation of this disease. Relaxing on regulations is why we are still attending classes via Zoom and masking-up when we step outside.
It is encouraging to see that major businesses in Texas like Target, Kroger and GM have decided to continue to require masks and social distancing despite the governor’s laxation. I can imagine, as someone who works in a restaurant during breaks, how difficult this will be to enforce and the constant pushback these businesses will face to protect their communities.
It is unthinkable that we live in a time when protecting the lives of the ones around us is being politicized and villainized. Human decency and compassion cannot be lost in this pandemic. The value of a person has to be more than the value of any business or government. Abbott and Reeves are treating their constituents as transactions; they are trading lives for economic gains.
The University of Alabama also announced this week that the fall will look like campus pre-pandemic. Classes will be held in-person, and they will be at full capacity. The university will also be rid of its campus-wide mask mandate.
Being in the UD bubble, it is hard to imagine that the university or even the state would just suddenly drop all precautions in the middle of the pandemic. We have worked hard here to endure that we can stay on campus and attend classes, and following in the footsteps of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama would be a step in the wrong direction.
I know that we continue to hear that it will just be a little bit longer until we are out of this mess, but the more we try to climb out, the larger the grave we dig for ourselves. We have to trust that science will prevail. The discussion for reopening the country cannot be on the table just yet, but instead, we need to wait for a larger vaccine rollout. By being patient, we can save lives.
I have confidence that next March, we will be back to living again, but not if we keep forcing a reopening.