Another mask mandate was the best decision for campus

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

A new year, a new semester, but unfortunately, the same old pandemic. Nearly two years in and America is still floundering in its response to COVID-19. As we enter the spring 2022 semester at The University of Alabama, it is important that we continue to stay informed and active in battling the pandemic.

The public health crisis continues to face new challenges as vaccination rates remain too low to prevent new mutations of the virus. 

Before the emergence of Omicron, the Delta variant caused an increase in case numbers and a resurgence of health and safety protocols during the fall of 2021. It is now widely accepted that Omicron is almost twice as transmissible as the Delta strain and nearly four times more contagious than the original virus

The rise of these viral mutations has caused new peaks in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. In some areas, case numbers were higher at the end of 2021 than they were in 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines had even been manufactured. Things are looking grimly similar to those early days of quarantine as flights are canceled, sporting events are postponed, and the virus threatens to send us back indoors.

With all of this in mind, we must reconsider our current approach to dealing with the virus in almost every area of life. Even with a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated, the emergence of Omicron has illustrated that we cannot yet return to “business as usual” as we have tried to do over the past several months. 

To get to the point, we, as individuals and as a community, must treat the current state of COVID-19 with a renewed sense of caution. Although a substantial amount of time has passed since the virus’s original prominence, case numbers are higher than ever and they show no signs of slowing down.

This is particularly important at the beginning of the new semester, as tens of thousands of students from across the country (and the globe for that matter) travel back to the Capstone within mere days of each other. This only heightens the potential for a surge of new COVID-19 cases on campus if we do not work together to curb the virus. 

I specifically encourage all students who are returning to campus to adhere to CDC recommendations and guidelines: social distance and wear masks as advised, get tested if you contract symptoms and ensure that you and others are protected by getting vaccinated (with a booster shot as well).

At this point, there is no good excuse for sitting idly by as the pandemic not only continues but thrives. When you neglect to do your part, you put everyone around you at risk  — even those who are vaccinated. It is essential to make safe decisions, particularly in these first few weeks as we reintegrate into Tuscaloosa. Maybe you should stay home instead of attending that party, or if you do, perhaps you should wear a mask and be sure that you and others are vaccinated.

It is a pain to revisit the strict precautions that we grew accustomed to during the early days of the pandemic. But we cannot ignore the truth: today’s COVID-19 is still prominent, dangerous and even more transmissible than when it began.

By wearing masks in buildings and classrooms, we can limit the spread of these new highly transmissible variants. By avoiding large indoor gatherings and socially distancing ourselves when needed, we reduce our potential to expose ourselves and others to the virus.

By getting vaccine doses and boosters, we decrease our risk for contracting, spreading and prolonging COVID-19. All of these steps are simple and effective  —  by taking them, you and I can support a safe and healthy semester here in Tuscaloosa.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at letters@cw.ua.edu.