Officials must commit to bring all students back this fall

University President Thomas LeBlanc made a statement last month that would surely only serve to boost his popularity – despite new vaccination efforts, a “full” return to campus this fall seemed “unlikely.”

LeBlanc later clarified his remarks, explaining that officials are scoping out ways to ensure everyone can come back to campus this fall. His clarification, while more optimistic than his initial statement, is still disappointing. 

Dismay about the comments on social media was widespread, as many hoped the proliferation of two vaccines would fast-track the University’s reopening plans. On the Facebook page Overheard at GW, a post sharing LeBlanc’s original remarks garnered nearly 60 comments, most lamenting the statement and questioning the rationale. Another post on the matter, this time on Reddit, saw a student call the ongoing online model “borderline theft.” Earlier that same day, a video posted on the same forum showed CNN coverage of a woman getting vaccinated in the GW Hospital, a facility which administered many of D.C.’s first vaccines. 

These two posts show conflicting realities for officials. On one hand, LeBlanc has not given a concrete answer on what our return to campus plan is despite increased vaccinations. On the other hand, hundreds of vaccines are being administered next door in our own facilities. While vaccination efforts remain in Phase 1a – reserved for health care workers and related associates – vaccine doses are expected to be available to the general populous as early as this spring. Not everybody will be vaccinated by fall, that much is true. But it’s equally true that GW owes a substantial debt to its students who have sacrificed such an integral component of their college experience. LeBlanc asked for ways to make the community safe for a full return, so here’s an idea: Bring every student back to campus and vaccinate every last one of them.

By fall this year, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all vulnerable populations will already have been vaccinated, allowing students with immunodeficiencies to return to campus virtually risk-free from the get go. From then on, it’s just a matter of strategically planning hybrid classes for the student body. As one option, classes could have one in-person meeting per week, streamed online, for vaccinated students, and another masked and distanced meeting for unvaccinated students, also streamed online. This would allow students to continue their education in the city in a safe manner. Another option would be allowing students to trickle into in-person classes as they become vaccinated in the fall.

Even without vaccinations available, several universities had returned all students to campus last fall with promising results. The Ohio State University, for instance, brought students back to campus on Aug. 23, and per their reporting data, has since recorded only 5,570 positive tests over 259,933 administered. Considering more than 60,000 students had returned to their Columbus campus, they tested each student on average four times, and less than 2.5 percent of those tests came back positive. OSU’s data is bonafide proof that well-enforced student housing guidelines and an organized rollout plan can significantly curb the spread of COVID-19 among students, allowing a full return to campus in the fall. Add to this the possibility of universal vaccination for students, and what results is surefire, reliable means to ensure every single student can get the in-person learning experience they are paying for.

Some may point to the tanking economy or its own financial woes as a reason the University may not be able to afford to vaccinate every student. While the economy has surely failed for many, those invested in the market, like the University’s own endowment fund, are much better off than was suspected in March. The Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq are all at record highs, and the real estate investment market is doing well as apartments in major cities are refilled. GW even appears to be hiring real estate consultants, a move they’d be unlikely to make if they were strapped for cash. 

If anything, the University owes such a measure to their students after a lengthy pandemic and the academic sacrifices they’ve made. It’s just a matter of GW putting in the legwork and sticking its neck out for their students, a gesture sure to be a breath of fresh air for a student body that hasn’t had one in quite some time. 

Kyle Anderson, a sophomore majoring in political science and criminal justice, is an opinions writer.

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