Vaccines, masks and Covid-19 are hot topics for students and faculty on campus this semester. Recently, the Texas Wesleyan University policy on masking was updated with a new mandate banning eating and drinking in the classrooms because too many students were taking their masks off in the enclosed spaces.
Associate Professor of Microbiology Dr. Christopher Parker said, “Students are using the food and drink in the classroom as an excuse to not wear their mask. I wish it wasn’t needed; I wish the students would wear their masks but even when faculty asked them to wear their masks, they would say ‘I was drinking’ or ‘I was eating’.”
There was an increase in reports of students by other students to the Provost Office for not wearing masks. “So, the response unfortunately is to say, ‘if you are not going to wear your mask in the class because you are eating or drinking you can’t eat or drink in the classroom, so there’s no excuse’. We are trying to be careful to still allow eating areas,” said Parker.
According to Centers for Disease Control, there are four Covid-19 variants of concern in the United States (as of Aug 6, 2021): Alpha – B.1.1.7, Beta – B.1.351, Gama – P.1, Delta – B.1.617.2. With growing concern of new variants within the U.S. and updates from other countries, many students on campus are glad for the extra mask precautions.
Senior Gabriella Gracia said, “With my family, I take a lot of consideration when I go out, having the vaccine. It was very important for me that when we attended class, we found something to make us feel safe.”
Davonn Granger, football player and senior, said, “With the vaccinations, we all thought we wouldn’t have to wear masks. It kind of scares me that we have to wear masks in general anywhere. It makes me feel a little safer just to know that we have some precautions in place.”
Vaccinated students and faculty can walk outside without a mask, but everyone must ‘mask up’ when they enter a building. “I like that they implemented that we could take [masks] off if we are walking outside and if we are vaccinated. I totally agree that students should wear masks at all times, at least inside and especially in class since we are all close together. I really appreciate how the dean and administration are pushing that out,” said Gracia.
Some students feel that the masks cause a disconnect between students. “I would like to get to see more people’s faces. Sometimes you see them in class and that’s the only time you get to see them, and you can’t even see their faces. We are missing a part of life, like a social life that we are missing,” said Granger.
Right now, Texas Wesleyan University does not require students to have the Covid-19 vaccine, but there are colleges in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida and Georgia that require the extra precaution.
“As times goes on it will become one of the vaccines that is just required. The problem is that it has become so politically charged that it’s hard to do it right now. The governor has made that we cannot mandate the vaccination right now. Hopefully that will change,” said Parker.
On April 5, Governor Greg Abbott signed an Executive Order saying a Covid-19 vaccination is not required for Texas citizens and vaccination status is private. “I think that the vaccine has become mistrusted and kind of demonized and politized, and I don’t understand it. I think it’s just fear around it,” said Parker.
Since the Executive Order, the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, but Governor Abbott has not changed the Executive Order.
Parker said, “The vaccine has been approved with the FDA, it’s been tested over and over again. It’s not some unsafe fly by the night procedure seat of the pants procedure we are making up. It’s been tested.”
Even though Texas Wesleyan University does not require the vaccination, they still require the safety of masks and take their mandate seriously. The Returning to Campus Guidebook – the Covid-19 campus policies – states that students who refuse to wear a mask could be asked to leave class and marked as an unexcused absence. After a set number of unexcused absences, students are dropped from their class.
Parker wants to remind students that “we have to look out for each other. We are our own first line of defense. Until we start watching out for each other, we’ll be doing this for a long, long time.”