It doesn’t take long for the pandemic to change everything. Just a week after saying that fully vaccinated individuals could go maskless in higher education settings (provided everyone else is also fully vaccinated), the CDC has issued interim guidelines based on new information about viral transmission. As a result, other institutions will now require vaccination.
New evidence suggests that transmission of the Delta variant can occur among vaccinated people. More troubling, the COVID-19 viral load measured in vaccinated individuals is the same as the viral load in unvaccinated people. Vaccinated individuals who contract the Delta variant experience fewer and less severe symptoms but spread the disease just as effectively. As a matter of comparison, the Delta variant is about as contagious as the virus that causes chickenpox.
This startling revelation resulted in revised guidelines that suggest that vaccinated individuals should wear masks in areas where the risk of transmission is high or substantial. This includes both indoor and outdoor events, restaurants, gatherings, and areas of “public accommodation.”
The new guidelines pushed both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University to announce that they will require vaccination for all students, faculty and staff personnel by August 31, and indoor masking. Neither university announced change to their plans to offer in-person learning. Wayne State University will require unvaccinated individuals to wear masks while indoors.
More institutions will require vaccination
The new CDC data and recommendations cannot help but impact any campus that plans to conduct in-person learning this fall. As Michigan and Michigan State have concluded, the only way to mitigate the significant danger that the Delta variant poses is to require vaccination of anyone who comes to campus.
Michigan’s mandate goes beyond requiring anyone who will be on campus to vaccinate. It also requires students who intend to remain fully remote to vaccinate as well, as a public health measure. For WCC, it also calls into question the wisdom of bringing trade groups onto campus for in-person training events.
This leaves no doubt that these in-person events pose a significant risk to Washtenaw County residents without returning any significant benefit. Vaccinated attendees can still contract and spread the virus to campus personnel. Further, bringing these trade groups to the area taxes the businesses that serve these visitors.
I was talking to a server this morning at a local restaurant who wondered whether the UA would be coming to Ann Arbor this year. She was relieved to learn that the plumbers would not be here this year. She explained that the restaurant changes its hours to accommodate the UA, but this year, they simply do not have the staff to deliver service. The same is true of hotels, stores and other businesses that support WCC’s guests.
It is time for WCC to indicate whether it will require returning students, faculty and staff to vaccinate. If not, the WCC administration should deliver its plan for how it intends to keep Washtenaw County residents safe.
Photo Credit: Don Harder , via Flickr