As we, Rutgers students and faculty, begin our return to semi-normalcy following a year and a half hiatus, it seems that conversations about "revolutionary" mandates are at the forefront of controversy.
Rutgers' vaccination policy states “All students planning to attend in the Fall 2021 semester must present evidence of (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 immunization at least two weeks prior to coming onto campus for any reason, including but not limited to moving into a residence hall, attending campus classes and/or entering any campus building.”
Further, the mask policy states that all students must wear a mask within any Rutgers buildings including common areas in residence halls and busses. Though there seems to be a general air of gratitude because we are able to be on campus, there are some who are unwilling to be compliant with even the most basic guidelines.
While on campus I have seen and heard many violations of Rutgers’ policies. Some of these violations are as simple as not wearing a mask indoors, others are more severe such as the rumored forged or bought COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Beyond this, questions of the necessity of masks have arisen as well. If we are all vaccinated (forged cards excluded) then why should we bother to wear masks? Does the University even have the right to enforce mask mandates? Does the government?
Health mandates, both Rutgers and governmental, feel like a revolutionary concept. Nonetheless, while seemingly unprecedented, these encouragements actually have a history, not only in the U.S., but also here at Rutgers.
One such instance is the Tuberculosis epidemic. During the late 1800s and early 1900s tuberculosis was running rampant in the U.S. At this point in time, medicine and the transmission of diseases through respiratory particles was still disputed. In places of high transmission rates, cities passed laws to prevent the spread.
“(The) 1896 anti-expectoration ordinance banned spitting in public places and transit systems and made the crime punishable by a $1 to $5 fine and up to a year in jail. By 1910, 2,513 spitting-related arrests had been made in the city," according to an article by the Tenement Museum in New York City.
While this may seem absurd to us now, the ordinance helped prevent further spread. We see a similar disposition in our current pandemic where some do not take the government recommendations for prevention.
Also, though medical professionals stated transmission would occur through bodily fluids, during the epidemic, some “questioned the validity of the new medical knowledge of tuberculosis transmission, or argued that the health benefits of spitting outweighed the potential risks."
History seems to be repeating itself in terms of distrust for the scientific community. Currently, we are facing disputes from those who believe the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe because this is the mRNA technology’s debut in this vaccine. Further, we see a large population believing that masks do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 or that they are detrimental to our health.
As with past epidemics, our general community seems to be distrusting of medical and scientific professionals. I happen to agree with what one writer for The Daily Targum said in 1937: “Especially should every college student be anxious to contribute to the program of prevention and cure.”
Another prominent and related epidemic was influenza. The mandates relating to this disease went beyond coughing/sneezing into a handkerchief and banning spitting. The U.S. actually started implementing mask mandates, similarly to now. In fact, it is arguable that these mandates were harsher than the ones we are currently experiencing.
In 1918, “Common punishments (for not wearing a mask) were fines, prison sentences and having your name printed in the paper." As of now, the U.S. has simply left mask enforcement to the general population and private businesses, and in our case, public universities. That said, I have never heard of a case involving tickets given by a law enforcement officer.
Generally, like the influenza era, we are seeing encouragement in the form of social pressure, ads, medical advice and more. While some may believe that mask mandates are a new way for the government to seek control over us, the "mask slackers" of the 1900s pioneered that thought.
Further, some believed that influenza was “no cause for alarm," and even said that, "Most of the (Rutgers) college cases are being taken care of either at the infirmary, or at the city hospitals, although a few have been sent home,” according to a Targum article from 1913.
Meanwhile, an article from the same issue tells us the entirety of the woman’s college was sent home. Hopefully, this is not an attitude that we adopt during this semester else we too may face the same repercussions.
Ultimately, while some may argue that these governmental and University-driven mandates are revolutionary or unconstitutional, we can see that there is a clear precedent from the eras of tuberculosis and influenza that support these precautionary mandates.
Though some of our students may not like these new rules, it is essential to follow them. After so long away from campus, these preventative measures and mandates are what allows the student body to have a much-valued college experience.
Henna Shah is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and criminal justice and minoring in psychology. Her column, "Henna's Take," runs on alternate Mondays.
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