The day will eventually come. It’s not a matter of if — but when — the COVID-19 pandemic will be formally declared over. Unfortunately, those of us who have continued to take the appropriate steps to mitigate the virus’ spread are still subject to some of the same restrictions in place since early 2020. A seven-day, nationwide average of nearly 500,000 COVID-19 cases almost two years after the start of the pandemic is clearly a testament to the failures of two administrations. However, it is well beyond dispute that the Republican Party and its supporters do not believe in science. It would be generous to say that only some of the GOP’s voting base wears its abject ignorance as a sort of perverse badge of honor.
It is not arguable in good faith that all Americans share equal blame for our present predicament. Young and old, north and south, east and west, conservative Republicans are the reason the pandemic is still raging in the U.S. They are, to quote former President Donald Trump, why “the world is laughing at us.” Indeed, the pandemic is equally a matter of politics as it is a matter of science. There are numerous documented stories of patients, thoroughly gaslit and laying on their deathbeds, regurgitating the same baseless COVID-19 conspiracy theories being spread by Republican leaders. To put it simply, Republican politicians are killing their own voters.
Much of this is settled in (the attached-to-reality portion of) the public square. To rehash how we’ve arrived at such a patently preposterous moment in world history would be fruitless. The only worthwhile course of action this late into the pandemic is to discuss how best to move forward with this virus as an inevitable part of life, as has been the case with the flu for the last century.
It might be jarring to hear that sentiment coming from a bleeding-heart liberal, especially one who has repeatedly lambasted the American Conservative movement over COVID-19. However, Republicans have won their war on medicine at least to the extent that this virus becoming endemic appears a logical, if not foregone, conclusion. As such, waiting for the virus to be eradicated before proceeding with a return to pre-pandemic life is akin to asking Santa for a pet unicorn this year.
My proposal for Americans to be able to live with COVID-19 while still living our lives might seem a bit draconian at first glance. However, I would argue that it is exactly as nihilistic and petty as the nonsense to which we sane, sentient human beings have been subjected to by the COVID-19 denial class for almost two years. This proposal, though, makes scientific — and cathartic — sense, especially in a city such as Ann Arbor, of which young people are its lifeblood. We, as University of Michigan students, are the engine which drives our city and our institution. We are also required by our school to be fully vaccinated and to receive a booster dose, which is known to substantially reduce the risk of severe illness. Why, then, should we bear responsibility for the public health risks being taken by the 37% of Washtenaw County residents who remain unvaccinated? It is with that in mind that the city of Ann Arbor should take steps that will both encourage those holdouts to get vaccinated while removing the burden of their stupidity from those who have followed the advice of public health professionals.
As it stands now, University students are expected to wear masks, limit the size of social gatherings, limit travel and quarantine for an extended time with a positive COVID-19 test. That all sounded great in 2020, but now, the student body is vaccinated, and likely to show only minor symptoms for only a short number of days, if we were to show any symptoms at all. All of that is to say that U-M students face a low risk if they contract COVID-19, but we are still behaving as if it is the monumental, universal public health threat it was nearly two years ago.
U-M students, who have suffered the loss of much of our college experience for it, must no longer be responsible for the choices of the unvaccinated. Provided that it can be done so legally – and given the emergency powers of the executive at the state and federal levels, that shouldn’t be a problem – hospitals nationwide must begin a triage process for access to COVID care. Hospitals nationwide are facing capacity and equipment shortages nearly two full years into the pandemic, and almost a year after vaccines became available. At this point, some burden of responsibility must be on the individual who has refused to be vaccinated.
Given that there are finite resources to be dedicated to COVID patients, there must be some form of hierarchy in place to ensure that those who continue to place the whole of society at risk are accounted for only after life-saving treatment has been directed to all vaccinated patients in need of care. As hospitals are plagued by the unrelenting stupidity of the Republican–led anti-vax crusade, it is only fair to exercise discretion in the distribution of care. None of this is to say the unvaccinated should be altogether denied medical care. However, by permitting doctors and hospitals to exercise discretion as to who receives prioritized COVID-19-related care, federal, state and local authorities (depending on the level at which such a policy is instituted) would be rewarding two of the demographics most adversely affected by COVID-19: youth and medical professionals. Doing so is both a logical and moral imperative.
Such a policy would also not fall outside the scope of standard medical practices, even before the pandemic. It is a longstanding, and eminently sensible, procedure in the medical community to triage patients based on chances of survival when faced with limited space, resources, equipment or personnel; those with a higher chance of survival are prioritized, so as to most efficiently and effectively allocate finite materials. Suffice to say, the COVID situation has placed all of those limitations on hospitals across the country. It doesn’t take an epidemiologist to know that the patients most likely to survive hospitalization are the ones who are vaccinated. Therefore, in addition to the moral imperative of prioritizing those who have taken steps to protect those around them, a triage system would also make for the best solution to the constraints faced by hospitals nationwide. While it is true that this will likely never come to pass, it is well past time for young Americans — all vaccinated Americans, really — to ask that the burden of the pandemic be placed on those too self-righteous to help end it. The sane 63% must not suffer for the ignorance of the insufferable 37%.
We, as college students, have lost so much since March 2020. It’s not just the tangible losses of COVID-19 deaths that have cost people our age recently. Adolescents and young adults have been deprived of opportunities and life experiences, which, uniquely to us, we will never be able to get back. Whether it was the inability to study abroad, to celebrate or congregate in large groups or simply to interact with our professors and peers in person or unmasked, none of these things are replaceable in later life. College students continue to be deprived of their once-in-a-lifetime college experience because of older people who believe their “personal freedoms” trump — pun intended — the public good. Adults who lost their jobs are now faced with the best job market in a generation. Those who had to work remotely were able to experience a traditional work environment before — and will be able to again at some point. Experiences associated with youth and adolescence are nearly impossible to replicate, while more “adult” milestones can still be achieved later on. It is time for young people to take some agency in our lives, and stop allowing the older, and dumber, among us to dictate which formative experiences we deserve to enjoy. We won’t get these years back.
Jack Roshco is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com