Letter to the Editor: Lewis & Clark should not repeal the campus mask mandate

Dear Executive Council,

I am writing to you to say that I was vastly disappointed to hear that the mask mandate is being lifted at Lewis and Clark. I fail to see any benefits this decision will provide and instead only see the harm it will cause. The motto “WeB4Me”, which has been implemented since the start of the pandemic, is not represented by this decision. Removing the mask mandate suggests a “We” that excludes students, faculty, and staff who are immunocompromised, disabled, living with vulnerable people or who have inequitable access to healthcare. I am begging the Executive Council to reverse their decision and reinstate the campus-wide indoor mask mandate. 

Lewis and Clark College, as a liberal arts academic institution, has committed itself to basing its policies on scientific data and evidence. Following the second wave of COVID19 in Multnomah county, weekly cases reached less than 300, and the mask mandate was dropped (Oregon Health Authority, 2022). By the beginning of August 2021, cases skyrocketed to nearly 1,500 per week due to the rise of the Delta variant despite over 65% of the county being fully vaccinated (Oregon Health Authority, 2022; CDC, 2022). By the end of August 2021, the mask mandate was reinstated and the rising number of cases was drastically slowed down until Omicron reached the county. Omicron’s peak in Multnomah county was January 9th, 2022 despite over 75% of the county being fully vaccinated (Oregon Health Authority, 2022; Multnomah COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, n.d.). Today, we are finally reaching the end of the fourth major peak of COVID19 cases within Multnomah county, but the virus is still out there as shown by the LC Covid notification about three new cases that was released merely 31 minutes after the mask mandate policy update. Studies have shown that the current vaccine effectiveness against omicron for those who are fully vaccinated with a booster is only 66% compared to the primary vaccine series in March 2021 that was initially at 91%. (Multnomah COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, n.d.). Why is LC choosing to risk removing the mask mandate when the past data support the opposite? Why must we follow the same trend we have seen multiple times before and wait for a new variant to surge in our community? Lewis and Clark College claims that “our students represent the next generation of global thinkers and leaders, unafraid to discard conventional thinking, civic complacency and outmoded preconceptions.” However, as we follow the county ordinances which have failed to protect us through the past four waves, we are choosing to comply and be led down the same paths again. I am urging Lewis and Clark College to follow its values, choose to be proactive, protect its community and keep the mask mandate.

Unfortunately, it is true that ableism is far too common throughout LC. Removing the mask mandate is a direct act of violence against the disabled community. Now, students decide if they can risk exposure by going to class or needing to withdraw from the semester. Their education is directly compromised by the decision to lift the mask mandate. A vulnerable student who financially relies on their job at LC now must decide if their financial needs are worth the increased risk of exposure. Their financial security is directly compromised by the decision to lift the mask mandate. Increased ventilation decreases the risk of exposure, but what about the library study rooms, music practice rooms, bathrooms and the other places where ventilation capabilities are limited? When cases start to rise again at LC, it is these vulnerable populations that will be hurt the most. I will admit, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and makes it harder for me to understand what my professors are saying. However, those are very minor inconveniences compared to the significant increase of potential exposure caused by not wearing a mask. Having everyone continue wearing a mask for the remaining weeks until the end of the semester will not harm our community, but lifting the mandate certainly will. The director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, stated on national television that it was “really encouraging that the Omicron variant is predominantly killing Americans who have other health problems”(Dickinson, 2022). I expect Lewis and Clark to be better than this. I expect Lewis and Clark to stick to its own values to not perpetuate this harmful ableist rhetoric.

The mask mandate is being removed one week before spring break. I am traveling home over the break to help my elderly grandparents with multiple risk factors and my parents move into a new home. I am absolutely terrified of bringing Covid from campus to my grandparents, my parents or my community. Students at Lewis and Clark are already attempting to process the overwhelming emotions and stress that is living through a global pandemic, increasing effects from global warming, and political unrest. Adding the stress of increased risk of exposure to Covid by lifting the mask mandate is simply unbearable. We as a community are not ready to handle another uncertainty that is preventable this semester on top of everything else.

Dear Executive Council, you are in a position of immense power as the entire Lewis and Clark community has invested its trust in you to make decisions to keep us safe. I urge you to please reconsider the decision to repeal the indoor mask mandate. Please choose to protect the entire LC community, not just those privileged enough to be healthy and not live every day in fear of getting Covid from our classes or on campus workplaces. As an undergraduate senior who is graduating in several weeks, please protect me and my community to allow us to have an in-person graduation and not live in fear each day for the rest of our time at Lewis & Clark that we will become severely ill or even die from Covid before the semester even ends. Reinstate the mask mandate and in doing so the “WeB4Me” will actually represent the entire “We” that is the Lewis and Clark community.

Sincerely,

Julia Litz

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