Even in red states, colleges require vaccines and masks. Healthiest Community Health News

Even in red states, colleges require vaccines and masks. Healthiest Community Health News

As students head to college this fall, hundreds of schools are requiring staff and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, wearing masks on campus, or both.

But in some schools, partisan politics has stymied efforts to disrupt public health protections.

Jeffrey Steinsland, a spokesman for the school, said, “The events at the University of South Carolina, in a deeply conservative state, demonstrate the limits of political pressure in some respects, even though “South Carolina is a red state and its voters generally mandate avoids.”

As the fall semester drew to a close, Richard Creswick, an astrophysics professor at the University of South Carolina, was eager to return to the classroom and teach in person. He thought it would be safe enough. There were typically less than a dozen students enrolled in their undergraduate level classes, and the school announced that everyone on campus would have to wear masks unless they were in their dorm rooms, offices or dining facilities. . For Chriswick, 69, this was important because he didn’t want working on campus to add to the COVID risk for his wife, Vicki Esslinger, 73, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Richard Creswick, an astrophysics professor at the University of South Carolina, fought for a mask mandate on campus after being prohibited by the state attorney general.  He fears putting his wife, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, at increased risk of COVID-19.  (Vicki Esslinger)

Richard Creswick, an astrophysics professor at the University of South Carolina, fought for a mask mandate on campus after being prohibited by the state attorney general. He fears putting his wife, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, at increased risk of COVID-19. (Vicki Esslinger)

But state Attorney General Alan Wilson weighed in in early August, sending a letter to the school’s interim president, Harris Pastides, that a budget provision passed by the state legislature prevented the university from enforcing a masked mandate. Pestides, who previously served as dean of the university’s school of public health, rescinded the mask mandate, though he encouraged people to still use them.

“We were very upset,” Kriswick said.

Within days after the university canceled its mask order, Wilson sent out a campaign fundraising letter explaining his intervention in public health measures, saying, “The fight over vaccines and masks has never been about science or health. It’s about expanding the government’s control over us. Daily life.”

Creswick and Eslinger, who felt strongly that the mask mandate was really about health, filed a lawsuit, arguing that the legislative provision cited by the attorney general does not prohibit a universal mask mandate. The state Supreme Court took up the matter expeditiously and on 20 August ruled in their favor 6-0.

Following the court’s ruling, Chriswick said he heard from professors at several other South Carolina colleges. “They’re calling me a hero,” he said, looking astonished.

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone in colleges and universities wear a mask, even if they have been fully vaccinated, in places where there is substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus. At this time most countries meet that standard. CDC also recommends that colleges offer and promote COVID vaccines.

To be sure, many colleges and universities already require students to wear masks or vaccinate.

As of August 26, the Chronicle of Higher Education counted 805 campuses requiring vaccinations for at least some staff or students. Most schools are exempt from vaccine mandates, often for religious or medical reasons. Hundreds of colleges are requiring students and staff members to wear masks on campus this fall, according to a running tally by University Business.

According to an analysis by the National Academy for State Health Policy, 12 conservative-leaning states hold on to vaccine mandates in higher education institutions. Rules vary, and some only apply to public institutions. The group is in the process of analyzing the mask mandate ban that applies to colleges and universities.

At Indiana University, a group of students challenged the school’s vaccine mandate on the grounds that it violated their constitutional right to “physical integrity, autonomy, and medical choice.” The US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit refused to block the school’s policy. The court argued that universities can decide what they should do to keep students safe in a communal environment. The students then appealed to US Supreme Court Justice Amy Connie Barrett, who refused to block the mandate without explanation.

Republican-led red states are hardly the only ones where colleges and universities are facing restrictions on their ability to enforce public health protections. But for teachers, whose professions are rooted in encouraging learning and the pursuit of knowledge, those that fly in the face of taboo science and endanger public health can be hard to swallow.

“It’s utterly discouraging to realize that our health and safety have been outdone by politics,” said Becky Hobaker, an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The union represents 600 faculty members in the school. “It’s like you know a train wreck is approaching and you sound the alarm, and there’s no one to listen.”

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In August at the University of Georgia in Athens, a professor who made masks mandatory in his classroom due to his advanced age and health conditions promptly resigned when a student refused to wear a mask. Georgia’s university system does not mandate masks or vaccines.

In May, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed legislation prohibiting mask requirements in K-12 schools and within city and county governments. Days later, the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, lifted emergency rules enacted last year that required indoor masking and physical distancing in colleges.

Hobaker said the University of Northern Iowa held in-person classes over the past school year without any major problems, using those mask and distancing requirements. But with the rise of the Delta version and the rise in COVID cases in the community, now is not the time to lift the security restrictions, the union claims.

Hobaker said that so far more than 200 people have signed an August letter sent by the union to the board of regents requesting mask and vaccine mandates on campus, and allowing classroom changes, Hobaker said.

Board spokesman Josh Lehman wrote in an email, “Both the board and our university recommend and encourage people on campus to wear masks or other face covers, and anyone who wishes to wear a mask can do so.” Is.” The board also supports students and staff receiving the COVID vaccine, which is available on campus.

At Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, associate professor Kimberly Paul planned to protest with other faculty members in August for a masked mandate. After the state Supreme Court ruled in Creswick’s favor, Clemson announced a three-week mask mandate from August 17. According to the school’s modelling, this stretch will cover the period of greatest COVID risk.

He said Paul and his colleagues want to make masks mandatory for the entire semester, after which the need can be re-evaluated.

“I’m a biologist, and it hits close to home,” she said.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues, and is published with permission. KHN is a flagship operating program at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), a thriving non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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