Opinion | COVID doesn’t end on Nov. 5

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

Beginning Nov. 5, all vaccinated individuals will no longer be required by the University to wear face coverings indoors. The only exceptions apply to “Crimson Ride buses and in clinical settings.”

Up until this point in the semester, the University has made a laudable effort to counteract the COVID-19 pandemic, but this decision is harmful and inane.

By Nov. 5 there will only be a handful of weeks left in the fall semester. Why reverse the mask mandate? This will only make the classroom environment confusing and uncomfortable, with both students and instructors questioning whether those around them are putting them in danger of contracting COVID-19.

The most obvious flaw in the University’s plan is its assumption that all unvaccinated students will adhere to the rules and remain masked while they are indoors and at crowded outdoor events. It seems doubtful that the University is expecting staff to continually verify students’ vaccination status to ensure they are following the new guidelines — so how will we know if the maskless are really vaccinated or not? We won’t.

As has been the case since the first day of the semester, Alabama remains one of the least vaccinated states in the nation (fewer than half of all Alabamians are vaccinated) and one of the states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. Around 62% of UA students have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Right now, it is unknown what “herd immunity” looks like for COVID-19. Herd immunity refers to the percentage of a population that must be vaccinated to develop protection from a particular disease. For polio, 80% of the population must be vaccinated to constitute herd immunity, while that threshold is 95% for measles. 

Perhaps 62% of students at The University of Alabama is enough to reach COVID-19’s herd immunity threshold, but perhaps it is not. Getting rid of the mask mandate for vaccinated individuals effectively gets rid of the mask mandate altogether, and it is a reckless decision to make when our understanding of herd immunity for COVID-19 is still in its infancy. 

COVID-19 case numbers on campus have gone down to single digits. There is no reason to remove the protocol that has helped us contain COVID-19 up until this point, especially right before the semester nears its end. 

University administrators should reverse their decision and maintain the mask mandate through the end of the semester. We have been able to live with masks for this long, and changing the rules now will only add confusion, discomfort and the risk of greater viral spread.

And if the University maintains its change in policy (which it almost certainly will), then students should continue to wear their masks regardless. It is a minor inconvenience that will only serve to make those around you feel safer — and, in reality, be safer.