2021 brought a hint of light after what could be otherwise noted as one of the darkest years for many thus far. The beginning of the year was still riddled with mask mandates and social distancing regulations.
Yet, various vaccines became available early into the year — first to a limited population, then quickly to practically all adults. And with vaccines, Penn State sought to promise a school year that juniors and seniors would recognize from their pre-coronavirus college semesters.
Recent national news headlines are accompanied by an ominous tone, though: the Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinstating its masking recommendations for certain areas, and an overall rise in coronavirus cases across much of the United States.
This begs the question — will Penn State be able to follow through on its projected aura of normalcy with these changes in global health?
With students returning back on campus in approximately three weeks, it’s presumably too late for the university to follow other Big Ten schools like the University of Michigan in requiring students to receive the vaccine. A two dose vaccine requires three to four weeks between doses and then two weeks after the final dose to provide full protection.
Ideally, Penn State would’ve taken action much earlier in the summer in mandating the vaccine for students — all students who are able to receive the vaccine without physical complications or religious restrictions, specifically. But time is rapidly passing, and the first nearly post-coronavirus semester is starting too soon for unvaccinated students to ensure they are fully vaccinated.
Often, Penn State acts as a neutral middleman: Students are paying customers to the institution, so it’s better for it to not make sweeping decisions that would likely upset a portion of these customers. But, this quasi-neutrality is harming students, faculty, staff and community members across the board — including those who are and aren’t vaccinated.
States with a small percentage of vaccinated individuals are the ones where the Delta variant is spreading rapidly, according to the New York Times — and risking yet another nationwide lockdown that would affect not only the unvaccinated individuals at the root of the spread but those who are vaccinated and eagerly looking toward a return of their pre-coronavirus lifestyles. The percentage of vaccinated students is unknown, but returning to campus unvaccinated is likely to increase the chances of yet another semester of Zoom University.
During the summer, Penn State has required unvaccinated students living on campus to get tested for the coronavirus weekly. And to give the university some credit, there have been minimal positive tests throughout the summer: Only four students and one employee tested positive in the past seven days, according to the university’s coronavirus dashboard.
However, campus has felt like a bit like a ghost town throughout the summer — these low positivity rates could very well be attributed to either a low on-campus population or a majority-vaccinated population.
Penn State and its students cannot become complacent when sidewalks are once again escorting masses of students to their in-person classes. Even without a vaccine requirement, as many students as possible should get vaccinated before returning to campus. Cases are spiking across the country once again due to the Delta variant — the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” perhaps — and this is preventable on campus and in State College.
Masks are required in campus buildings for unvaccinated people, but how exactly will this be monitored? Regardless, a heavy eye should be kept on ensuring unvaccinated individuals remain masked to avoid a surge or the Delta variant or other future mutations on campus.
And, while reflecting on a fall 2020 semester where cases were high and students were constantly expecting to be sent home, it’s unlikely Penn State would take any strong precautions if cases rise this semester.
Getting vaccinated protects not only the individual but those around them: Some people are medically unable to receive the vaccine, and young children are still primarily unvaccinated. Getting vaccinated keeps this “normal semester” intact. Getting vaccinated works to put a traumatic year and pandemic in the past.
As students, we must understand our responsibility to serve the community. If Penn State is not going to require the vaccine, we can still do our part to reach the end of the pandemic in our college town.
Daily Collegian Managing Editor Becky Marcinko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.