University President Thomas LeBlanc said last week that the administration was “actively planning for an in-person fall.” This comes a few weeks after the administration announced that they will require all students and faculty who will be on campus in the fall to be fully vaccinated so that students can have as much in-person instruction as possible. Officials have said they expect to offer remote options to accommodate the “varying needs of our community” but have yet to make an official announcement on class settings for the fall.
The University has every right to impose this vaccine mandate, and administrators should allow us to return to normal in the fall rather than relegating students to their residence halls to attend any virtual classes whatsoever. The efficacy of the vaccine and the adverse consequences associated with online school make it clear that it would be unacceptable for any classes this fall to be held completely online.
Most importantly, in-person classes will not present any type of significant risk because everybody on GW’s campus will be vaccinated in the fall. These vaccines are extraordinarily effective — during initial trials, the Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 95 percent effective, the Moderna vaccine was shown to be 94.1 percent effective and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was shown to be 74.4 percent effective at protecting against symptomatic disease in the United States, as well as 100 percent effective against severe cases. Moreover, as of April 26, only 9,245 people — out of more than 95 million who were fully vaccinated — contracted COVID-19. This means that fewer than 0.01 percent of Americans who have been fully vaccinated were infected with the virus. The science is clear: Once someone is fully vaccinated, they are essentially immune to COVID-19.
For this reason, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people can return to most of their normal activities with no masks and no social distancing. The CDC says fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks indoors, nor do they have to quarantine or get tested for COVID-19 if they come in contact with someone infected with the virus. These reams of data, along with CDC guidelines, should eliminate any concerns GW might have about reopening. A review of 130 studies on COVID-19 transmission rates in schools showed that they did not create community outbreaks.
Beyond the efficacy of vaccines, the negative effects of online school demonstrate why we must attend each class in person next semester. The mental health of both adults and teenagers has significantly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Symptoms of anxiety have risen by more than 300 percent, symptoms of depression have risen by almost 400 percent and more than 13 percent of adults reported either starting to use substances or increasing their substance use to cope with the pandemic, according to the CDC. If we want to curb these numbers, then returning to some semblance of normalcy must be a top priority. The community’s mental health is on the line if administrators don’t allow students to return to fully in-person classes.
The educational consequences of in-person learning are also dire. I can speak from personal experience that focusing on class material is much harder in a virtual setting than during in-person classes. According to one survey from Digital Promise, as many as 79 percent of students said staying motivated was a problem in the online environment. That same survey found that the percent of students who were “satisfied” with their course dropped by nearly a third, while the amount of students who were “dissatisfied” more than tripled. At this point, it is quite clear that educational quality suffers when students are forced to “learn” in an online format.
Considering what has been laid out, it is extremely hard to see why there could be any reason to keep students online for even one class next semester. The science is clear when it comes to the efficacy of vaccines, and the data is clear when it comes to the mental health and educational consequences of remaining online. Vaccines are the cure to this pandemic, and administrators should make sure to treat them as such.
Jack Elbaum, a freshman majoring in international affairs and economics, is a columnist.