This week’s headlines were double-edged swords for both the University and the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the University may have jumped the gun by loosening COVID-19 restrictions, as evidenced by the Delta variant making its way through the region.
Here’s the best and worst from this week’s headlines:
Officials continue to prepare for an in-person academic year that could still be threatened by the Delta variant inching its way through the country. In the effort to prepare for a more normal academic year than the last, administrators told professors they would not be permitted to ask students about their vaccination status and could not encourage students to wear masks in the classroom – although the policy was publicized before Bowser’s mask mandate announcement.
Private medical information should stay private. And because the University is mandating that all students receive vaccines before arriving on campus, it is, for the most part, guaranteed that the majority of us will be vaccinated.
In a lighter piece of news, D.C.’s streatery program has been extended. In May of last year, Bowser and the District Department of Transportation announced the streatery program, which allowed several restaurants who did not have outdoor seating to use parking lanes, alleyways and sidewalks to seat diners. This was in an effort to continue supporting businesses while still avoiding indoor transmission of the virus.
Those restaurants who already have a license from last May can continue to serve patrons outside. As we continue to deal with the pandemic for the foreseeable future, outdoor seating can serve as a stress-free and socially distanced dining experience for those of us still concerned about catching the virus. Plus, there’s nothing quite like enjoying the summer air while eating your favorite meal with friends and family.
Unfortunately, variants and outbreaks of COVID-19 are still a feasible threat to the in-person school year. Bowser announced Thursday that all people above the age of 2, whether vaccinated or not, must wear masks indoors given the uptick of cases.
Officials are correct in not allowing individual professors to make their own policies, but officials should prioritize students’ health and fully mandate masks indoors. It’s important to keep in mind that some students are immunocompromised, haven’t been able to receive the vaccine yet or still need to be cautious even after receiving the vaccine. A mask mandate would be safer for the entire GW community and could ease concerns for certain populations.
In a similar vein, perhaps Mayor Bowser was too quick to declare the end of the health emergency, as the Delta variant continues to pose a threat to the progress we’ve made. Only about half of D.C.’s population is fully vaccinated, and only those vaccinated are protected from the quickly spreading variant.
The D.C. government wasn’t the only one making headlines this week. The University shut down the Confucius Institute at the end of last month, which has drawn criticism for its funding from the Chinese government from students, faculty, and staff.
Frustratingly, officials did not clarify if the institute was indeed shut down because of the criticism. It is difficult to trust the people in power at GW when they refuse to release the sources of funding they receive. By refusing to adequately comment on the closing of the Confucius Institute, officials continue to erode the already fraught relationship between them and the students and faculty that they should be serving and whose interests they should be preserving.
Shreeya Aranake, a junior majoring in history, is the contributing opinions editor.