Art by Vivian Hsia
On the surface, Pepperdine has an impressive array of tools to battle the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Within this arsenal of masking, testing and quarantine protocols, there are still fine print loopholes and issues with mask compliance and vaccine hesitancy among students that can fuel the virus’ spread.
Pepperdine administration announced Sept. 10, that the true percentage of the student population vaccinated against COVID-19 is lower than first reported. Pepperdine’s vaccination rate among students is 86% as of Oct. 27— not the 96% the University previously claimed.
Pepperdine’s student population is 14% unvaccinated against COVID-19. This cohort is sizable, as they make up higher than one in 10 students. This group of unvaccinated students provides ample fuel for the spread of the virus on campus.
Since Aug. 1, there have been 128 cases of COVID-19 reported among Pepperdine students and staff.
There is also the loophole that vaccinated students are given extra privileges the unvaccinated are not. Pepperdine permits vaccinated students who tested negative and who report no symptoms to attend classes — even when their roommates recently test positive for COVID-19.
It is possible for a vaccinated student to carry the virus and be symptomless because most vaccinated cases of the virus are asymptomatic, according to the World Health Organization.
In residential housing, people with shared rooms live together without masks, making virus transmission more likely. If a roommate tests positive, both roommates should quarantine — but that logical protection measure is not school policy for vaccinated students.
Studies in the United States, Singapore and the United Kingdom find vaccinated people who catch Delta SARS-CoV-2 can carry the same quantity of virus inside their noses as unvaccinated people. Breakthrough Delta SARS-CoV-2 cases aren’t rare.
Research published on Oct. 29 in the Lancet, a journal on infectious diseases, shows vaccinated people with COVID-19 are nearly as likely to transfer COVID-19 to their household contacts as the unvaccinated.
Pepperdine admitted 77% of their COVID-19 cases this fall semester were among vaccinated students, according to the Oct. 6 President’s Briefing.
Moreover, there can be a time lag in testing positive. Some people may feel fine but can still be carrying the virus. The Delta variant is intensely contagious like chickenpox, and the current COVID-19 vaccines are not perfect matches for fighting it.
There is also the issue of false negatives on COVID-19 tests and the scary reality that not everyone carrying COVID-19 may be testing positive. Scientists discovered some people may be getting a COVID-19 toe condition but not testing positive for the virus.
Students are supposed to wear masks in classes, but some students still are not wearing masks appropriately. Some professors even bring masks to class for students who forget to mask.
Pepperdine rules about masking in classes are clear, but professors remind students to wear them correctly due to some students attempting to snub the rule.
The University even hired students to remind their peers about the mask rules. New student Health Ambassadors walk around Pepperdine’s public spaces, like the library, to remind people about mask rules.
Also, even within the existing masks rules, there are loopholes that allow people to take off their masks in some classes for periods of time. Pepperdine Chief Business Officer Nicolle Taylor confirmed Oct. 27, the school’s mask policy still allows masks to come off for drinking in classes.
To fully combat COVID-19 on campus, it would be more ideal for professors to ensure all students appropriately wear their masks for the entire time they are in class.
Potential super spreader events are also unmasked periods at some clubs, performances, practices and sports events.
There are times and situations students are excluded from wearing masks inside in public spaces, including “if you are actively eating or drinking, for some situations with NCAA athletics, or some fine arts, practices and performances,” Taylor said.
Taylor says drinking and eating are shorter-term situations, and the expectation would be that students put their masks back on when they are finished.
When a student is wearing a mask inappropriately, professors, Health Ambassadors and other fellow students need to speak up about it to enforce appropriate mask-wearing. It should not just be paid staff encouraging masking but everyone supporting each other in these health safety measures.
Also, encouraging professors to provide more frequent outdoor breaks during lectures would provide safer venues for students to remove their masks and drink.
Tightening the loopholes that still exist in Pepperdine’s COVID-19 virus containment strategy could keep the community much safer by halting the virus’ spread on campus. Yet, the hardest loophole to change is some students’ negative attitudes towards mask compliance.
There is also the further challenge of some students’ off-campus behavior and how that potentially brings the virus to campus.
“From social media, I see a lot of posts from students not wearing masks at off-campus indoor locations and out at indoor large group events,” Pepperdine junior Claire Copeland wrote in an email. “This grey area is also a loophole for exposure that still puts any students they have contact with at risk. Masks are not a school uniform you should stop wearing on weekends.”
Being vaccinated does not mean you, your vaccinated friends and family are bulletproof against COVID-19. For your own safety and the health of others, please wear your masks to indoor classes, club meetings and events and support others in making this lifesaving choice.
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