By The Editorial Board
The start of the fall semester at Chapman University is rapidly approaching amid the new Delta variant of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the school is again implementing strict, unnecessary, and overbearing mask mandates on students – including on those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus – instead of providing students the educational environment they have been deprived of for the past 18 months.
After a year and a half of “Zoom University,” it is time for Chapman to stop taking positions at odds with science and instead allow its students to decide their own risk tolerance when entering the classroom.
In an email sent to the student body by Dean of Students Jerry Price on Aug. 13, Chapman allowed vaccinated individuals to forgo its mask mandate by only “strongly recommending” that they wear one indoors. It was good news that the university recognized the efficacy of the shots’ artificial immunity and left students with the choice as to whether they wanted to comply with the recommendations.
However, in the statement written by Mr. Price, there was no mention that those who have already contracted the virus – and have therefore developed natural immunity – could also opt-out of the mask mandate. Instead, he only stated that masks would be required indoors for unvaccinated individuals.
Nonetheless, on Aug. 17, only four days after Mr. Price’s email, the Office of the President released a contradictory statement revealing that Chapman consulted an infectious disease expert, Dr. Dan Kelly, who recommended that all individuals mask indoors.
Chapman has repeatedly admitted to prioritizing the recommendations of the CDC and California government when drafting health guidances for the last 18 months. However, on this occasion, not only did the school opt to take advice from a single individual, but they ignored the entities they unquestioningly trusted for the last year and a half.
It’s disappointing to witness yet again Chapman backtracking on its students, especially after repeatedly stating which health authorities it would follow throughout the pandemic. Chapman has blatantly and contradictingly ignored those authorities when drafting its recent decrees and instead followed the opinion of one epidemiologist to determine the weighty restrictions on university students and faculty.
Not to mention, Chapman’s mask policies are needlessly strict and will not be effective. Dr. Michael Osterholm, the epidemiologist who served in the Biden administration’s transition COVID-19 task force, has stated that “Many of the face cloth coverings that people wear are not very effective in reducing any of the virus movement in or out.”
While Chapman is offering students N95 masks on request, the vast majority of students will opt to bring their comfortable cloth masks. Chapman makes no distinction between the two in its mandate.
Just as puzzling is the fact that Chapman’s twice-per-week testing requirement for unvaccinated students does not account for students who developed natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection. The university and its so-called health “experts” should acknowledge that natural antibodies offer stronger, more permanent protection than a vaccine.
A recent Israeli study found that natural antibodies are 6.7 times more protective than the antibodies generated from a COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, Chapman should begin checking for prior infection when drafting its health guidance. If students have recovered from the virus, then they should be indefinitely exempt from masking and testing, no matter how much time has passed since they were infected.
Disregarding the naturally immune is another instance of Chapman ignoring the science that it claims to follow.
The CDC reports that for the week of Aug. 14, the rate of hospitalization for those aged 18 to 29 was 3.1 per 100,000 – hardly enough to warrant panic. While cases and hospitalizations have risen in Orange County over the last month, the 7-day moving average of deaths from COVID-19 is a mere 3.3 out of a population of over 3 million.
In a county so populous, a daily death count that is this low does not justify Chapman’s needless, panic-driven health measures. Moreover, 66 percent of county residents have gotten at least one jab, including 81 percent of seniors.
The Chapman community – which is 95 percent fully vaccinated according to Chapman President Daniele Struppa’s last email – poses absolutely no threat to those in the county, nor vice versa.
If Chapman’s goal is to get the remaining students, faculty, and staff vaccinated, then it needs to set up proper incentive structures that convince individuals to get it. However, mask mandates and encouraging vaccination are inversely proportional. That is to say, nobody wants the vaccine if they will still suffer from the same overbearing restrictions.
This is because students will either start to believe vaccines are ineffective if students who have the shots still have to mask, or they will think that masking is a substitute for getting vaccinated.
Every student and faculty member at Chapman has the opportunity to get vaccinated. At this point, if someone has chosen not to get the shot, it is a personal choice, and that person has to bear the risks associated with contracting COVID-19.
Unvaccinated people pose no threat to the vaccinated. The death rates from COVID-19 (no matter the variant) are infinitesimally small if someone has been vaccinated. As columnist Marc Thiessen stated in the Washington Post, “vaccinated Americans are more likely to die from a lightning strike than COVID.”
What is frequently not discussed – but is perhaps just as important as the spread of the virus – is the psychological harm placed on students who have to continue sacrificing their learning because of restrictive measures. Students have been unable to experience necessary human connection. In addition to the forced isolation, they must wear masks if they wish to come on campus – increasing deindividualization, which further makes students feel isolated. Due to this, there is likely greater mental health damage placed on students.
So much for prioritizing the “safety and wellbeing of Chapman’s students, faculty, and staff.”
Since there are readily available and effective vaccines that anyone can get, the trade-offs from universal masking become net-negative.
However, not all measures taken throughout the pandemic with regard to schools have been unreasonable. In March 2020, the lockdown orders concerning schools were justified, not because the data supported them, but because no one had any data available, and state and local officials had a duty to err on the side of safety. But we are now still reacting to a worst-case scenario when the new data greatly contradicts it.
After all, the chief incentive for getting vaccinated is a return to normalcy. Chapman, unfortunately, is only exacerbating the lack of normalcy with these needless restrictions.
If someone is worried about COVID-19, then they can vaccinate, wear masks, and social distance to their heart’s desire. If someone has a different level of risk tolerance, then they should rightfully do with their body as they wish. This would be consistent with the science, which states that both natural immunity and vaccines are effective, commonly-used cloth masks are ineffective, and overbearing restrictions are bad for everyone’s health – especially college-age adults.
It’s time for Chapman to follow the science and stop prohibiting its students and faculty from making their own choices about health and safety.