Opinion: Safety measures remain important for students even as reopenings gradually occur
Students should continue following COVID-19 protocols despite increased vaccinations and reopenings. Here, second- and fourth-year business economics students Yuka Kozakai and Kohei Hayakawa sit with masks on the grassy slope near Janss Steps. (Anika Chakrabarti/Daily Bruin staff)
This post was updated April 25 at 6:46 p.m.
With increased vaccination rates and plans to return to campus fall quarter, the end of Zoom University is finally in sight for Bruins.
But that doesn’t mean student life can return to normal quite yet.
On March 29, federal health authorities issued grave warnings about a potential surge in cases as a result of Spring Break travel. The following day, Orange County and Los Angeles County, two of California’s most populous counties, received the green light for significant reopenings.
While California has yet to show the same signs of a fourth surge, officials are concerned the state’s hard-won progress could be compromised if citizens stop following COVID-19 protocols.
This comes at a critical point for Bruins. UCLA announced March 9 that it would start to reopen certain spaces on campus with limited capacities. Further, while housing will remain at reduced capacity, the university plans to offer mostly in-person classes beginning fall 2021.
Despite the hopeful progress increased vaccination and reopenings offer, students must continue to follow COVID-19 protocols and get vaccinated, if possible, to prevent a fourth surge in cases. Not complying with these measures may delay in-person plans and endanger communities susceptible to the virus.
Bruins may not make up a large percentage of LA’s population, but they can make a difference – now and in the future.
Leaders of the Masked Heroes Initiative at UCLA, second-year Asian American studies and biology student Megan Vu and second-year computer science and linguistics student Rainey Williams, said it is important for UCLA students to remain vigilant in their physical distancing practices.
“Since the vaccinations have become more available, I’ve been hearing more parties,” Williams said. “That’s a little discouraging because just because some of us are vaccinated, it doesn’t mean it’s safe to just go back to normal and have these really tight social gatherings.”
Vaccinations and the gradual reopening of LA are immeasurably important steps to return to life as we once knew it, but Bruins should understand that progress will be gradual. Maintaining public health guidelines is still essential as the process of reopening the city ensues.
“It’s a good thing that everything’s slowly opening, but with that, I think people need to be careful to just limit contact,” said Lilli Erigero, a second-year English student. “Just because things are open doesn’t mean that things are back to normal.”
Safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing may continue well after the pandemic in order to make sure COVID-19 remains under control, and UCLA students must adhere to them.
Students continuing to be careful and limiting contact is not only a safety measure to protect them from the virus and a spring surge – it is a necessary safeguard for the health of Los Angeles and California as a whole.
Public health, after all, isn’t an individual matter.
“Each of us, when we minimize our risk of getting and transmitting it … we’re also helping protect others who may be at much higher risk of severe disease,” said Jody Heymann, a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
LA has many at-risk communities, including people experiencing homelessness, the immunocompromised and those who cannot be vaccinated due to allergies or autoimmune disorders. People experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County are 50% more likely to die from COVID-19, according to a recent UCLA study. Another study, also conducted by UCLA, found that Black and Latino individuals living in LA County are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than their white peers.
It is imperative that UCLA students continue to wear masks and physically distance, despite increased vaccination rates, to protect both themselves and high-risk Angelenos. Even when we return to campus in the fall, Bruins should be aware of the impact their actions have on others.
Vaccines may prevent people from getting sick, but scientists are still unsure about the ability of vaccinated individuals to carry and spread the virus. On top of this, new strains of COVID-19 are spreading quickly, and research about the efficacy of vaccines against those strains is even more limited.
Though students have been wearing masks and staying within social bubbles for the most part, student gatherings like the Halloween parties earlier in the school year and the gatherings after the UCLA Final Four basketball game are exactly what we must avoid in order to remain in control of the pandemic.
To be fair, some experts are optimistic that, due to the current high vaccination rates and low case numbers, California will escape the fourth wave of COVID-19 surges states on the East Coast are experiencing.
But surge or not, thousands of Californians still test positive for COVID-19 every day.
“Even in the absence of a surge, people are still getting sick,” Heymann said. “People are still getting hospitalized and having long-term consequences.”
It is more than understandable that students want to get as much of their college experience as they can now that vaccinations seem to make that possible.
However, a college experience should not come at the expense of the health and well-being of others.