By the time this publication picks up again in the fall semester, Rutgers must follow the science on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and give the student body and faculty the semester they not only deserve, but also have every right to have.
I typically write on economic policy issues. My last column discussed how our beloved home state should be planning for the post-COVID-19 world. Spoiler, it should be preparing to drop COVID-19 related restrictions quickly thanks to the progress in vaccination and the remarkable efficacy of the vaccines.
As of yesterday, 64 percent of the state’s over-18 residents have received first doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Eighty-five percent of the 65+ population has received at least one dose and 70 percent are fully vaccinated. This is our ticket to return to normal by the end of the summer, for the sake of schoolchildren, the unemployed, struggling businesses and our mental health.
I was alarmed by statements made recently by Antonio Calcado, executive vice president for strategic planning and operations here at Rutgers, about the vaccine, COVID-19 in general and Rutgers’s plans for the fall, so much so that I cannot dedicate my last column of the semester to my usual programming of economics-related commentary.
Calcado called for continued testing, social distancing and disinfection of spaces going forward toward the fall semester, The Daily Targum reported. No wonder so many are reluctant to get the vaccine. What is in it for them if nothing changes with it?
He commented on the decision to limit bus routes and stops, a decision that anyone who has ever been on a Rutgers bus can tell you is a terrible one.
The vaccines are effective against preventing symptomatic cases, at preventing asymptomatic cases, lower viral loads and therefore make those infected less contagious, possibly even making it impossible for them to spread COVID-19 and work tremendously to reduce hospitalizations and deaths to near-zero.
This is not just clinically seen. One can observe Israel, who has fully vaccinated 53 percent of its population, and reported zero deaths for the first time in 10 months.
Given these facts and the reality that nearly every single student returning to campus in the fall will be vaccinated, Calcado’s remarks are senseless. Mandatory testing would be a waste of time, resources and energy. Mandated social distancing would create serious and unnecessary disruptions in students’ lives, whether they be in the dining halls, buses or lecture halls.
Disinfecting spaces would be unnecessary, considering the efficacy of vaccines, the fact that the risk of COVID-19 infection from surfaces is low and that the CDC seems to suggest that hand-washing and hand sanitizer are more effective than disinfecting regardless.
Further, while his statement that COVID-19 kills 18 to 25-year-olds is correct, it is very misleading. As of yesterday, in the 18 to 29-year-old category 2,275 have died from COVID-19 out of 570,421 total deaths, making up 0.5 percent of all deaths.
New Jersey hospitalization rates also remain low, with approximately twice as many people being discharged from hospitals per day than die of COVID-19 as of last week. His statement is not just misleading but also bordering on fear-mongering. This is unacceptable for a University official.
Rutgers owes its student body as good of an experience as it can have this fall semester. Last spring, circumstances appropriately shut campus down and sent us home. Last fall, cases were out of control, and most of the universities that irresponsibly attempted to return to campus quickly reversed course.
I am grateful that Rutgers made the decision not to return to campus this past year. This semester began with the end of the Thanksgiving-Christmas wave and record case counts. Again, I think this was the right call.
I am proud to be attending a school that is enabling its return to campus with its vaccine requirement. I am only disappointed to hear the “we are going to be back 100 percent, just not back all at the same time” rhetoric, to quote Calcado. Those who wish to maintain social distancing, mask wearing and testing may do so for themselves as they deem fit — and good for them!
But the science is clear. Vaccines unequivocally enable a return to normalcy. When we return to campus nearly 18 months after most of us left, we should be able to enjoy it to the maximum extent that is safely possible. For the last year, that limit has left us learning remotely. Heading forward, maintaining such a limit on any aspect of life is arbitrary. As I argued in my previous column, why would we wait any longer than we have to?
The correct path forward for Rutgers is clear. Encourage people to get vaccinated by allowing normal life to resume, as it safely can post-vaccination. Fear-mongering is inappropriate and out of place, and should be replaced with the optimistic yet very realistic view of post-vaccine life.
Prepare to retire unnecessary restrictions once the entirely fully vaccinated student body returns to campus. These are easy, honest and fact-based steps to take. I hope Rutgers will do the right thing.
Taylor Shiroff is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and minoring in mathematics and political science. His column, "Policy Matters," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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