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Retroactivism is a defining feature of American policy-making. From the current environmental crisis to our colonialist, savior-esque model of giving aid to “poor” or “developing” nations, being fine with causing issues so long as we initiate an attempt to fix them after the fact is at least one thing our country does well. It should come as no surprise that our COVID-19 vaccination plan is no exception.

Rather than following basic public health guidelines to prevent the spread, Americans talk about the vaccine as if it were a universal light at the end of the tunnel: a return to normal after a long year of social distancing and being stuck at home. But reality is much different. We are still in the early stages of vaccinating our population. To date, a mere 28.5% of Michigan’s residents have been vaccinated. Clearly, that light at the end of the tunnel is much further away for some than others.

Even with efficacy rates of Pfizer and Moderna being 90%+ and Johnson & Johnson being 72% in the United States, along with Michigan’s promise to “give all Michiganders access to vaccines within a 20-minute drive,” the vaccine is no panacea. At best, it protects the most privileged of our society while disregarding the safety and well-being of everyone else. 

Still, the state and the University of Michigan continue to forge ahead with their post-pandemic reopening plans — regardless of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. In accordance with the most recent MDHHS Epidemic Order effective March 5 through April 19, Michigan residents are allowed to gather indoors with up to 15 people from three households and outdoors with up to 50 people. While face masks, according to this order, are supposedly “required at all times,” to be honest, that rule simply isn’t being enforced. And why risk people’s lives with such large gatherings anyway? In the past two weeks, Michigan has seen a more than 80% rise in cases and an average of 20 deaths per day.

As a student in Ann Arbor, it’s impossible to leave my apartment without being exposed to someone not wearing a mask. During huge partying weeks like Winterfest and St. Patrick’s Day, it’s even harder to avoid students walking between parties who are either too careless and/or too inebriated to put on a mask. 

As someone with a full load of classes, an in-person job, high-risk family members and a basic concern for the safety of my community, I am appalled by the privileged and disrespectful actions of my peers on this campus. Furthermore, I am disappointed in the “representatives” of this state. 

After a year of these same failed policies — which act more as suggestions than mandates — I have to wonder, are safety and well-being really at the heart of Michigan policymaking? And if not, don’t the people in power clearly need to be replaced? Why are my tax dollars paying to keep people in office who don’t care about the lives of their constituents?

In remembrance of those who have passed from COVID-19, our frontline workers and others who have put their lives on the line, how can we continue to be so blindly inconsiderate of those who are still at risk? To quote writer and activist Rupi Kaur, “our elders are not disposable,” and neither is anyone else in the face of this pandemic. To everyone refusing to wear a mask right now, why do you think your comfort should trump someone else’s life? Get over yourself.

On campus, it’s not uncommon to hear excuses like, “Everyone in our frat has already had it,” “We’re a pod of 100 people,” “I’ve already been vaccinated” or, the worst, “It’s my right to not wear a mask.” To be clear (although I’m not sure why it’s my job to educate you), a prior COVID-19 infection does not guarantee you won’t get it again. And just because you have antibodies doesn’t mean you can’t spread the virus asymptomatically. Perhaps the biggest caveat to note here is that even after you’ve been vaccinated, you could still spread the virus if you’re not wearing a mask. 

According to an article published March 9 by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, “While a fully vaccinated person is well protected against disease, they need to be respectful of others who may still be at risk of infection and who have not received the vaccine. We still need more data on vaccine efficacy against new variants, efficacy in children, and efficacy on preventing transmission.”

Until more is known, “taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces,” is still recommended, according to the CDC.

Meanwhile, signs inside University buildings like the Michigan Union boast messages like, “Imagine yourself here!” with images of students studying together without masks. 

Sure, this is a great goal. Obviously, post-pandemic life is what we’re all dreaming of. But how soon are we talking about? If masks are only enforced to “some” vague extent this fall, shouldn’t we be worried about spreading the virus to places that don’t have the vaccine yet? Once again, as an immunologist, University President Mark Schlissel’s understanding of science and reality seems out of line. How much is the University paying him again? Still $900,000?

As they stand, the University’s reopening plans are based on the idea of herd immunity, or the notion that once enough people are vaccinated, society can safely return to normal. But since it is still unclear whether or not the virus can be transmitted after vaccination, coupled with the fact that it may take years for the rest of the world to receive the vaccine, it’s clear that this “return to normal” only applies to those who are privileged enough to receive the vaccine first. 

In our ivory tower, once again, we fail to realize how separated we are from facts of the real world. Rather than continuing to take a retroactive approach to combat this virus by placing all of our bets on the vaccine, we should be doing a better job to prevent ourselves from doing harm in the first place. 

The science is clear; we know how the virus spreads. Why aren’t we doing everything we can now to stop it? For a university that takes such great pride in its research and medical advancement, the ignorance we see in its policymaking is dumbfounding. If the residents of Michigan care about anyone but themselves, our actions affecting one another need to change. And if our representatives are going to continue to take our tax dollars and tuition money, they need to either step up their policymaking or step down from their positions.

Lily Cesario can be reached at lcesario@umich.edu.

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