By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor
Last year, Baylor enacted one of the most impressive collegiate approaches to COVID-19 seen anywhere in the United States. Its comprehensive precautions not only allowed it to remain open for the entire academic year but also caught the attention of White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who visited campus and offered her praise.
But that was then, and this is now.
On Aug. 13, Baylor announced new protocols for COVID-19, which require masks in classrooms and labs and implemented twice weekly testing for those without an exemption. Its precautions, while certainly better than nothing, are a stark departure from the caution of last year’s response and can be characterized only as a weak and irresponsible attempt to curb the greatest public health crisis of our time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been over 37 million cases of COVID-19 and over 600,000 deaths from it in the United States alone. To put that into perspective, the number of Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19 could fill McLane Stadium over 822 times, and the number of Americans who have died from it could fill it almost 14 times. The average person is oblivious to the utter carnage wrought by this virus. Trust me when I say that I wish I could be too.
For the past 17 months, I have viewed the pandemic from a unique position: My father is a pulmonary and critical care doctor at two of the largest hospitals in Dallas and has been treating COVID-19 from its outset. I’ve gone weeks at a time without seeing him because he would stay in hotels to avoid spreading the virus to my family. I’ve looked at the bruises on his face after he wore an N95 mask for 12 hours straight. I’ve sat down to dinner to listen to stories of death and broken families. I’ve gotten calls at night to hear about unvaccinated patients begging for the vaccine moments before they were put on ventilators, knowing that they might never wake up again. I’ve been reminded every day of the reality that engulfs us—a reality that is only worsening with the rise of the delta variant.
According to the CDC, the delta variant is more contagious than previous variants and could cause more severe illness. Across the United States, hospital beds, particularly intensive care unit beds, are rapidly filling up. COVID-19 is not a joke. The delta variant is not a joke. The suffering caused by this virus is not a joke. Now is not the time for people to give up on all of the precautions that are known to help so that they can return to a level of normalcy that, at this point, is simply imprudent.
Last year, I was proud to attend Baylor—an institution that so masterfully navigated COVID-19 that I was able to have a meaningful freshman year while remaining safe. This year, I am disappointed in the university I call home. Requiring masks in classrooms and labs is useless if masks aren’t required in residence halls, dining halls and social gatherings. Implementing twice weekly testing for those without an exemption is pointless if precautions aren’t being taken to prevent the cases from occurring in the first place. I’ve witnessed Move2BU operations with no masks, packed dining halls with few to-go options and Welcome Week activities with no social distancing. Baylor is, quite literally, creating one superspreader after another.
It’s time for us to humble ourselves. We’re not invincible college students whose personal decisions have no effect on others; we’re lower-risk members of the Waco community whose personal choices can determine whether the Magnolia Table waiter, the high school chemistry teacher or the H-E-B cashier get to live to see their next birthday. All of us, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask, social distance and get tested because all of us are capable of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Out of simple charity for others, we need to make these small sacrifices. Wearing a piece of fabric on our faces, watching a football game on TV instead of in a stadium and showing up for a two-minute test twice a week are minor inconveniences. Next time we feel troubled by these small sacrifices, we need to remember the 14 McLane Stadiums that could be filled by those who have already died from COVID-19. It is our responsibility—it is your responsibility—to do everything we possibly can to keep that number from growing.
Let’s humble ourselves.
Let’s take this opportunity to live out our Christian mission of loving one another.
Let’s end this pandemic, together.