UConn should still take COVID-19 seriously 

UConn Junior Colleen Daly helps keep the statue of Jonathan next to Gampel safe from Covid-19 by putting a mask over his snout this past fall. With COVID-19 being ended as a public health emergency, it is important that UConn upholds important social distancing policies to protect the health of students. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/The Daily Campus.

There is a growing belief that COVID-19 is no longer a concern. United States President Joe Biden even declared that “The pandemic is over” and is now following through with ending the public health emergency status, which will decrease federal funds for hospitals and threaten loss of insurance for millions of Americans. 

In reality, the pandemic is still very much ongoing. COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States, as there are still thousands of Americans dying weekly from COVID-19. Millions have become sick multiple times and now experience long-covid, which includes debilitating and sometimes fatal health consequences. Over one million Americans have died from COVID-19, and the number continues to rise. Death and illness continue to weigh disproportionately on the elderly, the very young and the immunocompromised. 

On Jan. 30, 2023, the World Health Organization found that globally there remains a high risk of transmission, and that “Health systems [are] currently struggling with COVID-19 and caring for patients with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), health workforce shortages, and fatigued health workers.” Despite the continued necessity of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic technologies to save lives and prevent spread, there remains immense global inequality in public health resources — particularly vaccines — making the virus much more harmful in most of the global south. 

Consistent mutations of the virus and its adaptations to vaccines makes potential increases in future severity unknown and dangerous. The same conditions that led to COVID-19 emerging are still present globally, now coupled with added widespread immune system vulnerability and elevated risk of post-infection cardiovascular and metabolic disease alongside limited care resources. While the fatality of this virus has recently declined, there is no guarantee the trend will continue. 

Like many U.S. institutions, higher education struggles to understand this reality. Despite the fact that almost two-thirds of the country has been fully vaccinated and one third has also received at least one booster shot, thousands continue to die. Beyond a requirement that students be vaccinated twice — with few exceptions granted on religious and medical bases — the University of Connecticut has very little continued mitigation policy. 

Although recently this spring the university “strongly recommended” wearing masks again indoors, there is no mandate outside of Student Health and Wellness Facilities, making indoor masking ineffective for those who need protection. Furthermore, vulnerable students, professors, workers and organizations on campus are restricted to recommending membership wear masks but are unable to enforce these mandates. Masks are most effective at protecting others from the viral load of the wearer, but they are less effective at protecting oneself from others who may be sick. 

UConn’s COVID-19 updates page was last updated Feb. 25, 2021, and the previous COVID-19 Dashboard, which documented the spread of the illness, is now inactive and unavailable. With less mitigation strategies such as masking and social distancing, the persistence of the virus makes monitoring cases and overall spread more a serious ongoing public health concern. More importantly, the website’s need for updates and lack of tracking may reflect voluntary testing policies among a population which is mostly no longer concerned with the disease. 

The Daily Campus Editorial Board recommends UConn strengthen mask mandates indoors, and the reinstitution of free testing — clearly communicated to the student body — and tracking measures as is consistent with the consensus promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a resource the university claims to monitor. Testing and quarantining students upon arrival to campus could go a long way in preventing outbreaks. Proper precautions like this can still mitigate the virus, keep us healthy and protect the most vulnerable populations here at UConn. 

Leave a Reply