A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and NC State is still balking at protecting the health of students, graduate workers, staff and other frontline workers. With high community spread of COVID-19 and our vaccination rate well below herd immunity, campus workers and all other members of the campus community are at risk. While vaccinated individuals are more protected than unvaccinated, we are still at risk, especially from the more infectious delta strain of COVID-19.
The last month was marked by a series of emails amending previously announced precautions, just like last summer. One email informed us that instructors could not require more protective rules than the university, even in our own office hours. Another stated masks would be required inside for the first three weeks, but the requirement may be dropped afterwards. NC State has recanted some of that messaging (everyone is required to wear a mask inside until the University says otherwise), but after the last 18 months of the University administration prioritizing profits over people, we are skeptical about its commitment to the health and well-being of the campus community.
In response, we, the members of the NC State Graduate Workers Union, ask instructors to sign our pledge to commit to (1) urging students get vaccinated ASAP, and (2) requiring masks in classrooms and office hours for the entire fall semester, regardless of changes in the administration’s opinions on when and where masks are necessary. The administration has repeatedly shown its interests are not aligned with our safety, so we must be prepared to take our and our families’ safety into our own hands.
With a disease as infectious and dangerous as COVID-19, vaccination is a public health concern. The COVID-19 vaccines are well-studied, safe and effective. Scientists and medical experts have studied the possible effects from these vaccines and determined they carry minimal risks and save lives (and quality of life) by reducing COVID-19 transmission.
In the meantime, both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals should wear a mask when in large groups or inside campus buildings (aside from one’s dorm room or office). Scientists have shown face masks reduce transmission and are most effective when worn by infectious individuals. Because someone may be presymptomatic but contagious, it is important we all mask to reduce the spread and the University provide free masks for all members of the campus community.
Before NC State surreptitiously removed the percentage of vaccinated statistics from its COVID-19 tracking page last week, data indicated campus vaccination rates were around 50%, well below the previously-thought herd immunity threshold (70-80%). COVID-19 cases are increasing in NC and across the country, with the delta variant now the predominant strain of the virus. The delta variant is approximately 60% more contagious, and the highly infectious lambda variant is growing in prominence, with greater resistance to antibodies, further increasing the risk to all on campus.
With vaccines so readily available, the administration should make a greater effort to protect our health by requiring vaccinations to come on campus, and, until we reach adequate levels of vaccination to end the spread of COVID-19 on campus, require masks in all indoor spaces on campus except in private spaces. At least 643 colleges and universities in America have mandated vaccinations, and NC State enacted mask mandates last year. While vaccinated individuals appear protected from severe disease, many of us have health conditions which put us at greater risk if infected with COVID-19 even if vaccinated, and many of us have household members who are particularly vulnerable due to their immune status or age. We and our families should not suffer because the administration lacks the gumption to protect us.
NCSU Grad Workers Union, UE150