OPINION: The Uncertainty of the Fall Semester and the Delta Strain

A view of the UAA campus during April 2020, during the first days of the shutdown. Photo Credit: Bill Roth/ADN

On July 29, a university-wide email arrived from UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell regarding the opening of the UAA campus to all faculty, staff, and students on August 2nd; expressing pride for the efforts taken during the 16 prior months of largely remote learning. 

The next day, July 30, he and interim UAA president Pat Pitney announced the return of full mask mandates on campus; regardless of vaccination status. This was a response to the CDC’s guidelines regarding the current spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus across the nation, which has been shown in tests to be roughly 50% more contagious than the original strain that brought campus life to a deadlock. There’s been many responses from students to this announcement, from fear to frustration to even anger; but many, including myself, are more worried than anything else. 

This upcoming semester will mark the first time I’ve ever taken part in on-campus living, due to my parents putting our old home on the market in light of an ongoing move to Arizona. I want to finish my schooling with UAA, and while the house may not have sold yet, I wanted to make this translation regardless to have the important experience of living on my own. Between living in the residence halls or trying to rent an apartment or room, I found UAA’s housing to be the safest and most convenient opinion. The worry of course then is if UAA decides to close campus off again, which would likely include a restriction on dorm living; as it did back in March of last year. While in some cases students were able to receive the University’s permission to stay under heavy restriction, many more had to move out, which I’m sure includes some of those reading this article. There were cases of students having nowhere else to go, be it from personal circumstances to being unable to afford rent or other forms of housing. As students prepare to move back onto campus, the experiences of the previous year are probably still at the back of their minds.

What needs to be remembered is that UAA, and the nation at large, is more prepared to handle COVID-19 than it was the year previous.

I’ve heard many, including my own parents, question the effectiveness of the current vaccine due to the CDC’s statement that even those who are vaccinated should wear masks in public places once again. It’s important to remember, however, that the vaccine is still considered highly effective against this Delta strain, as Dr. Anne Zink stated in a public health briefing back in July. Wearing a mask is an assurance policy for staying safe, and perhaps more importantly, keeping others safe. There’s many in Alaska, regardless of age, who are immunocompromised; some to a point receiving the vaccine would be a risk. There’s also the issue of being Asymoatic carriers, those who do not show symptoms of COVID-19 and might even not face many ill effects, but still carry the virus. The best weapon to have for the sake of common health is herd immunity; and that’s why cooperation with CDC guidelines is vital.

I believe every student who is able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine should take it. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen stories nationwide and even in our own state of flare ups and super spreader events created by people who chose not to follow social distancing guidelines. There’s  still misinformation spread freely of not only wearing masks, but the vaccine. All of this shows a different kind of epidemic besides the virus itself; a social kind. One expressed through distrust and a lack of empathy for others.

The UAA community has come together many times to tackle major challenges; with many willing to do their part to help others regardless of inconveniences. For the sake of a safe, healthy, and enriching learning environment to be maintained through the upcoming semester, I hope that we can all stand together once again.