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USAC proposes resolution for expansion of COVID-19 protection measures

A surgical mask is pictured on a brick ground. The Undergraduate Students Association Council proposed a resolution pushing the university to reimplement a mask mandate, among other COVID-19 safety measures. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Clara Schwartz

May 25, 2023 11:27 p.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council proposed a resolution calling for UCLA to expand COVID-19 protection measures.

The resolution – sponsored by Cultural Affairs Commissioner Alicia Verdugo and General Representative Eliana Sisman – calls for the reintroduction of a mask mandate, the continuation of vending machines for COVID-19 tests and the reinforcement of isolation guidelines. The university ended the mask mandate along with other COVID-19 protection measures in August.

For students who are at a high risk of infection or serious illness – such as those who are immunocompromised – the lack of masking on campus is particularly worrisome, said Sisman, a third-year sociology student. As a result, students who are at high risk may feel excluded from many spaces on campus, she added.

Sisman said she thinks UCLA administration is ignoring the issue of COVID-19 and other issues facing the disabled community on campus. She added she felt the administration has not made satisfactory changes in response to student demands for hybrid access to class and better ventilation.

While California ended the COVID-19 state of emergency in February, new variants of the virus have emerged. Los Angeles County identified the first cases of arcturus, an emerging omicron subvariant, in April. However, the subvariant has not been shown to cause more severe illness and health officials say it is unlikely to cause another surge. Over the last seven days, LA County has had a 3.1% test positivity rate. It has also had 272 hospitalizations because of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

[RELATED: A year later, UCLA administration fails to meet promises following 16-day sit-in]

In an emailed statement, UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said while there is currently no mask mandate at UCLA, the university strongly recommends masks. He added that the Infectious Diseases Management Team has not received any formal proposals from students to reinstate masking.

Christopher Ikonomou, the president of the Disabled Student Union, said he is glad students are taking efforts to reinstate the mask mandate. However, he said there are other implications surrounding the resolution that are worth considering.

Many students continue to ignore the risks of infection, said Ikonomou, a third-year communication student. Even with the possibility of experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19, he said he feels that there is a lack of support for reinstating community safety measures on campus.

“That’s leaving the most vulnerable behind, as they have been left behind this entire pandemic,” Ikonomou said.

However, the mask mandate may have negative impacts on other people in the disabled community, particularly deaf students who rely on American Sign Language, he said. These students will not be able to read lips in the classroom if people are wearing masks, he added.

Gwendolyn Hill, a third-year psychobiology student, said she believes reinstating the mask mandate on campus would increase the accessibility of education for students. However, she also said she was skeptical about the resolution’s chance for success, adding that she feels many people believe the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“What’s important to recognize is that the ending of a public health emergency on its face is different from the pandemic ending,” she said.

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Clara Schwartz
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