Reintroduced mask mandate casts doubt on COVID-19 response – GW Hatchet
Reintroduced mask mandate casts doubt on COVID-19 response – GW Hatchet

Reintroduced mask mandate casts doubt on COVID-19 response – GW Hatchet

When the university lifted its mask mandate earlier this month, officials quoted DC’s “low” COVID-19 designation and lack of significant transmission or serious illness after the spring break as theirs reasoning behind the decision. But none of these facts had changed since GW reinserted mandate last week.

While the abolition of the mask mandate was controversial, the university’s decision at the time faithfully reflected the changing science behind masking and the significant advances made in the fight against the pandemic. Reinstating the mask mandate is a confusing, ineffective measure that casts doubt on GW’s success in responding to COVID-19.

Understanding the importance of masking in relation to the availability of vaccines is crucial when preparing a COVID-19 response plan. Early in the pandemic of spring 2020, we relied on social distancing, quarantine, and masks to minimize coronavirus infection. Medical research shows masks slowed the spread of COVID-19, reduced the carrier’s exposure to the virus, and even reduced the severity of the infection. More importantly, we now have access to three authorized vaccines in the United States and more way. Masking and social distancing are mitigation strategies, but vaccines are our primary and most effective intervention. In short, our toolbox to combat this pandemic could not be more different than two years ago.

The university justified the reintroduced mask mandate with increasing cases, but public health experts have said that case positivity is a less useful metric for assessing risk in highly vaccinated communities. In April 2021 Article for The Washington Post, three public health experts argued that a combination of low hospitalization rates and high vaccination rates are effective measures that public health officials can use to decide when to facilitate intervention such as masking. As the vaccine is effective, case positivity is increasingly less correlated with death and hospitalization. In other words, while more people are getting coronavirus, their vaccinated status reduces the chance of hospitalization or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses both hospitalizations and vaccination rates in its latest recommendations to assess societal risk, not to raise cases alone.

Continuing to follow the same measures that were in place before widespread vaccination ignores the vaccine’s incredible protection against transmission and serious infection. Around the rain 98 percent of GW’s community and almost 75 percent of the district’s residents are fully vaccinated. ONE examination of the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that fully vaccinated individuals aged 18-49 represented only 10 percent of all vaccinated Americans admitted to hospitals for severe COVID-19 cases between June and September 2021. For members of the university community that does not fall into that age group, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines reduced the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization by 94 percent.

Masking had to be universal before widespread vaccination because the virus was highly transmissible and threatened the personal health and safety of the population. This threat was particularly high for those who are 65 years and older or have comorbid conditions or compromised immune system. However, virus infection and severity are now highly dependent on vaccination status. That most likely form of virus transmission is from unvaccinated to other unvaccinated and the least likely is transmission between those vaccinated. Vaccinated people are 29 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated humans.

Because vaccination increases protection against COVID-19, public health experts have taken to it a road masking, or choosing whether to wear a mask based on individual preferences, with an N95 mask. N95 masks can block upwards 90 percent of COVID-19 particles that provide more protection than universal cloth or surgical masking. In a highly vaccinated community, one-way masking offers incredible protection against the virus for those who still worry about their health without a mask mandate. When the university reinstated its mandate, officials urged GW community members to wear an N95 mask over cloth or surgical masks.

Mask mandates are not the only way to protect those at risk of COVID-19, nor are they the most effective means of doing so. To have more opportunities to participate in the teaching externally or in a hybrid format would allow those concerned about personal classes during the pandemic to learn in comfort. The introduction of gentle and forgiving attendance policies would prevent students from choosing between sitting in class while they are sick or taking care of their health. Distribution of the university’s rapid home test set beyond the Virginia Science and Technology Campus would do testing more accessible and wanted better measure positivity. Reporting hospitalizations on campus will also help those who are immunocompromised decide whether it is safe for them to be on campus with or without a mask. All of these measures would respond better to the pandemic than a mask mandate.

Current scientific research does not support that all individuals should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, immunity or risk. The same research suggests that vaccinated people in highly vaccinated communities who are comfortable with detection should feel empowered to do so without worrying that they pose an unnecessary threat to others who have been vaccinated.

The university damaged its credibility when it chose to ignore how far we have come in responding to this pandemic when it reinstated its mandate. GW’s decision to reinstate a universal mask mandate implies that it lacks confidence in the vaccine, and to suspend the mask mandate again would further jeopardize the university’s credibility. The reinstatement of the mandate is a confusing, damaging policy with questionable effectiveness in dealing with the threat posed by the pandemic.

Karina Ochoa Berkley, a junior specializing in political science and philosophy, is a columnist.

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