Los Angeles (AFP)
In-person learning is back on the curriculum at universities in the United States this quarter after a hiatus imposed by the pandemic, but, like many others in this deeply divided country, how it will unfold will largely depend on politics.
Mask warrants and proof of vaccination are mandatory on some campuses, while on others they are prohibited by local law, as states take widely divergent approaches to detonating Covid-19 infections, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
About a fifth of the 4,000 colleges and universities surveyed by The Chronicle of Higher Education require students or staff to get vaccinated – mostly in states that voted for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
They include California giant UCLA, which said in April that anyone who studies, works or lives on one of its many campuses in the liberal state will need to be “fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least 14 days before the first. school day for the fall semester. “
And with the Delta wave threatening to take swathes of the United States back to the pandemic’s darkest days, UCLA officials said last month that everyone – regardless of vaccine status – will need to be tested. every week and will need to wear a mask inside.
– Forbidden in Texas –
It’s a far cry from dark red Texas, which Republican Governor Greg Abbott has banned any publicly funded organization from demanding such health measures.
Ideological opposition like this worries some at the University of Texas at Austin, where 51,000 students will return to class later this month.
“I’m very nervous about going back to campus,” said Jamie O’Quinn, teaching assistant and doctoral student in the sociology department.
“As far as I know, we will be forced to resume face-to-face lessons, but the students will not have to be vaccinated,” she said. “Even though I’m vaccinated, with the Delta variant, I still feel incredibly dangerous.
“We are all terrified – all my friends, who are forced to teach in person. We all talk about it all the time. “
At least a dozen U.S. states prohibit public universities from requiring the Covid-19 vaccine.
The University of South Carolina encountered problems when it tried to make masks mandatory in its buildings.
University leaders backed down this month after the staunchly Republican state attorney general said the measure lacked legal merit.
– ‘Recipe for a disaster’ –
Such politically inspired executive orders seem to invite disaster, said the American College Health Association.
“Many of these restrictions directly contradict (national government) guidelines,” ACHA said in a statement.
“State actions that prevent the use of established and effective public health tools at the same time as the increase in Covid-19 cases is a recipe for disaster. “
But these decisions are popular with some students, who see mask warrants and vaccination requirements as infringing on their individual freedom.
A handful of students have gone to court to try to overturn an Indiana University requirement that they be masked and vaccinated. That effort failed, but more cases are pending, in Indiana and elsewhere.
For Aniffa Kouton, 20, a chemistry student at IU in Bloomington, the lawsuit was “ridiculous”.
“The UI or any other public university requires that you have vaccines against other diseases like the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and chickenpox for elementary school,” she said, “so I wasn’t surprised when they wanted people to have the covid vaccine.
“People want to politicize this whole disease. It’s stupid that people want to fight to be safe. “
Kouton said the vast majority of his comrades agree with the science and anxious to return to pre-pandemic life.
Of the 360 to 380 students she supervised this summer during a support program, “only 10 had asked to be exempted from the vaccine” for religious or health reasons, she said.
Overall, Kouton added, the students are just anxious to stay healthy – and to “go back to something that looks like normal.”
© 2021 AFP