Over 99% of Lewis & Clark’s student body is fully vaccinated as well as upwards of 93% of the faculty. However, there is still a small percentage of people on campus who are unvaccinated due to medical or religious reasons. These individuals are much more likely to carry COVID-19 and potentially spread the virus to people who are vaccinated, especially those who are following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines loosely. Students should be made aware if their course selection places them with an unvaccinated student or professor, but in a way that protects the unvaccinated from having their identity disclosed.
There are obvious legal and ethical issues with revealing a student’s religious and medical information without their consent. Because of this, any sort of mandated candidness would be ill-advised and unlikely. If vaccination status is revealed it should not be attached to a person’s name or there would be a serious risk of hazing or even segregation.
Sharing exemptions based on religious grounds is problematic because religion is highly susceptible to skepticism and it is far easier to respect a person’s religious beliefs when they do not interfere with your livelihood. A public notice of the reason a person is not vaccinated, especially if that reason is religious, could easily result in criticism of an exposed student’s beliefs. It could even grow into a form of student segregation.
Of course, there is merit to not wanting to be exposed to infection, something made more difficult by being around the unvaccinated, but we have precautions like masking and social distancing in place to protect ourselves.
Also, protecting the identities of the unvaccinated helps these precautions protect against mental health struggles. If an unvaccinated individual is separated from other students it could catalyze depression, anxiety or any number of other disorders.
LC decided to return to in-person learning because it could be done safely with almost the entire campus vaccinated, as well as to protect against the mental health struggles that come with isolation. We cannot exclude such a small percentage of people from this chance for healing because of a risk largely mitigated by rule-following and herd-immunity.
However, it is still unethical to put some students at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 without their awareness. While pure transparency is problematic, it would make sense for vaccinated students to be aware if there is an unvaccinated individual they were randomly placed in close quarters with. Classes that are not fully vaccinated could be made aware that there is a slightly higher risk of them becoming infected so that they have the option to drop the class. It would be especially crucial to notify individuals who are at a higher risk of harm from COVID-19 of the possible danger, as it could cause significantly more damage.
Even this limited disclosure of medical and religious information could be dangerous, though. There could be small classes in which the unvaccinated individual can be easily identified. There could be individuals that are vaccinated who argue they have more of a right to the class than the unvaccinated student, and that the student should drop the course instead of them.
There could even be a legal argument against such a policy exposing private religious and medical information, but it would be the same argument anti maskers make against mask mandates, the same argument Confederates made against Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and the same argument gun fanatics make to keep assault rifles on the streets; that it is more important to follow the law literally than protect lives by following the law spiritually.
In dangerous and crucial situations the law can be bent for the greater good, and this sort of compromise is a fair way to protect health and anonymity.
Illustration by Ameila Madarang