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Will Mandatory Covid Theater Ever End For College Students?

University of Iowa
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While red and purple state universities move closer to a pre-lockdown normal, schools in blue states still won’t let go of Covid.

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Universities across the country have increasingly rolled back Covid restrictions in recent weeks, giving many high school seniors hope their college experience will not be marred by the policies that, for more than two years, ruined that of their older siblings and peers.

Most commonly, this rollback has entailed quietly dropping policies pertaining to forced isolation and social asceticism, as well as lifting mask mandates in near lock-step with local and state political shifts on mask policy.

Some schools, such as the University of Iowa, largely operate as if it were 2019, without any broad requirements for masking, social distancing, regular Covid testing, or Covid vaccination.

Universities in Texas and Tennessee, likewise, operate without requirements for Covid vaccination due to restrictions on such requirements enacted through executive orders in the former and the state legislature of the latter.

In Virginia, although universities are not strictly barred from mandating Covid vaccines for students, many state universities dropped their student Covid vaccination requirements following the release of a non-binding opinion by Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares that opposed them.

Vaccine Force Likely for Many Students This Fall

However, outside of a handful of red and purple states where local political leadership has expressly prohibited Covid vaccine mandates at universities, many incoming college freshmen this fall will likely need to contend with the strong probability that they will be expected to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

This is regardless of whether they have concerns over reports that the Covid vaccines can induce myocarditis and menstrual irregularities. It is regardless of whether they and their physician have determined vaccination against Covid may be unnecessary for them as individuals due to natural immunity acquired through prior infection, or simply their youth and therefore extremely low risk from the disease.

Many of the nation’s top schools still had Covid vaccine mandates in place as recently as March 3, 2022. Some universities, such as Rutgers, The College of New Jersey, and California State University, Fullerton, already have Covid vaccination requirements quietly listed among required immunizations for incoming students for fall 2022.

According to an email from Lucia Sinatra, the co-founder of NoCollegeMandates.com, a grassroots organization comprised of parents and students attempting to push back against university Covid restrictions, “[M]any schools are communicating these policies [Covid vaccine requirements for Fall 2022] to students that have applied, have been accepted and/or are interested in visiting.”

Sinatra noted this is even if these universities have not formally made their policies for the fall publicly available. In a phone interview, Sinatra said, “The big fear is they’re not going to easily let go of those vaccines mandates for this coming fall, even if there’s not data or no science to support the efficacy of vaccines in this age group.”

Restrictions May Return

Some universities already seem to have confirmed these fears in communications concerning the lifting of other restrictions, by implying the removal of these other restrictions is contingent upon the continuation of vaccine and booster requirements.

For example, in a February 8 announcement concerning in-person events and allowing vaccinated guests in residence halls, Northeastern University Provost David Madigan and Chancellor Ken Henderson stated, “Northeastern is a fully vaccinated community with a booster requirement. Given the effectiveness of the vaccines, and the significant reduction in cases across North America, we are pleased to announce the lifting of restrictions across all of our North American campuses.”

Furthermore, it remains to be seen if any of the restrictions universities are slowly lifting might be reinstated if or when there is a new Covid variant or a rise in cases. The University of Pennsylvania, when announcing plans to lift some testing and masking requirements on March 15, 2022, simultaneously communicated plans to roll out a four-level system, similar to that put in place in the city of Philadelphia, that would presumably allow the university to perpetually rescind and reimpose various Covid restrictions based on local conditions or administrative whims.

Can’t Adopt Their Minds to the Facts

Donald J. Boudreaux, an economics professor at George Mason University, wrote an open letter criticizing GMU’s booster mandate and contemplated legal action against the mandate before it was nullified following an executive order from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. When asked in a phone interview why he believes so many schools seem unable to let go of their Covid mitigation policies, Boudreaux replied, “[University administrators and faculty] are wedded to the narrative that Covid is an existential threat and remains an existential threat to humanity… That’s the ethos that prevails among the vast majority of college professors.”

Somewhat optimistically, however, Boudreaux said, “[Eventually] people are going to tire of this and people will forget about it… life will get back to normal. In states like Virginia where we have a Republican governor that is for whatever reason, political and ideological reasons for sure, is preventing state universities from being super-strict on Covid, [the process] is speeding up.”

To speed up that process outside of states such as Virginia though, people like Sinatra continue to organize like-minded individuals to fight back. According to Sinatra, her group has been growing through social media and communication platforms such as Twitter and Telegram.

Together they are exploring legal and legislative avenues to compel universities to drop their Covid vaccine mandates. They are also working at a grassroots level to achieve these changes by encouraging more people — parents, students, and faculty — to speak out and resist.

“If we can get one school to flip,” Sinatra stated, “we can get a lot of other schools to pay attention. If we can get a blue state or a blue school to flip, we can use it as a model to take to all the other schools.”