With case counts rising, COVID-19 restrictions prove divisive

Aug. 3, 2021, 9:53 p.m.

Some students living on campus and Stanford workers say they’re worried about rising COVID-19 cases coupled with a lack of student mask-wearing and testing. The past few weeks have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among students and faculty, including at least seven “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated individuals.

Masks only became required indoors on Tuesday for fully-vaccinated students. Previously, masks were optional in dorms where students spend a substantial amount of time, and the majority of students did not wear them. Stanford also recently dropped its twice-weekly COVID-19 testing requirement for students who have been inoculated, though students can still elect to be tested if they prefer.

Though Stanford reports that over 95% of people coming to campus regularly are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the increase in cases coupled with new CDC data suggests vaccinated individuals may still carry as much viral load if they become infected with the Delta variant. They might even be equally contagious to unvaccinated people, and that has left some feeling worried about the current lack of campus restrictions.

The concerns around rising cases and minimal restrictions come as Stanford reaffirms plans for a fall quarter similar to pre-pandemic life and on the heels of new Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that recommends fully-vaccinated people wear face coverings in public indoor settings located in areas of “substantial or high transmission.”

With the introduction of Monday’s mask mandate, which Stanford added to align with Santa Clara County’s health order, some students living on campus have voiced dissent with the new requirement. Others say the University needs to go even further to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“I think the weekly testing and mandates of masks are a sacrifice that we have to make now in order … to actually go back to normalcy,” said Chinmay Lalgudi ’24.

Lalgudi told The Daily he was left “nervous and scared” by the recent announcement from Stanford regarding the seven “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated students. He said that since the seven individuals were all symptomatic, he wondered how many other people might have been asymptomatic and spreading COVID-19, especially since weekly testing is no longer mandatory.

Reacting to the new mask mandate, Leila DeSchepper ’24 expressed a similar view. “I think it’s the right decision. I think they should have made it earlier, if anything,” she said.

But not all students shared Lalgudi’s and DeSchepper’s views.

“The mask rules are completely ridiculous,” said Mark Huerta ’24. “Every student on campus basically has been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Huerta added that because of this, masks were “just virtue signaling” and that people were focusing too much on the number of new COVID-19 cases rather than the aggregate effects of the rules themselves on society.

On an anonymous conversation app ‘Buzz’ popular among Stanford students on campus, others expressed similar disdain. “F*ck masks,” one anonymous student wrote in response to Stanford’s announcement of a mask mandate. “I will not be wearing one. We’re literally all vaccinated and if unvaccinated people are dying that’s literally their fault. Natural selection baby.”

The post was ‘upvoted’ by over 60 others. “Preach baby,” one user commented.

But not everyone on the app was on board. “[You] really just said ‘f*ck the immunocompromised,” another replied, receiving three downvotes. A different post — “Masks: better see y’all wearing em” — received eight downvotes.

Others fell somewhere in between, emphasizing the need for consistent testing rather than masks.

“I’m in favor of weekly testing because it’s not too inconvenient and can give a better gauge of whether or not a mask mandate is something that’s needed on campus based on the prevalence of the virus,” said Sina Mohammadi ’24, who indicated that he would support an indoor mask mandate if the prevalence of the virus warranted one.

The University repeatedly declined to comment on if Stanford would re-institute a testing requirement for students. “Stanford continues to closely monitor the public health situation and the circumstances around the COVID-19 variants,” wrote University spokesperson E.J. Miranda in a statement to The Daily.

Paul Regalado, president of the local union that many Stanford service workers are members of, was supportive of a student mask mandate even before the University’s policy change.

“Students need to be wearing masks in those dorms,” he said, citing the rise of more contagious variants.

Regalado also criticized Stanford for moving too quickly to eliminate restrictions in the first place. 

“The union maintains the thought that we are not out of the woods,” he said, adding that he believes people will be less likely to trust officials imposing restrictions, such as mandatory testing and mask-wearing, if they continue to “change their mind.”

Still, others were opposed to any form of COVID-19 restriction for vaccinated individuals. Some had their own ‘solution’ to rising case numbers: don’t get tested in the first place, even if you think you’re sick. Saying they were choosing not to get tested despite experiencing flu-like symptoms, one frosh living on campus told The Daily, “I would rather not know the answer to whether I’m COVID-positive or not.”

DeSchepper said that she knew a student who also had cold-like symptoms but didn’t get tested because they didn’t want to quarantine if COVID-positive.

DeSchepper said she disagrees with this view and added that she supports mask-wearing and testing. Still, she said she hopes that Stanford offers as many in-person options for students as possible.

“It is four years of our life, and we’ve already wasted one, so it would be nice to have in-person classes, even if cases are a little higher,” she said.

Whether Stanford will move to ramp up restrictions again or maintain its present course is an unanswered question, but the issue remains divisive on campus.

“We shouldn’t brush this off, we should take it seriously in order to have the normal rest of the year,” Lalgudi said.

Regalado encouraged public health officials, including at the University, to take a more consistent stance on restrictions. “They’re messing with something they have no idea about, and it’s costing lives,” he said, citing over 80,000 new cases and tens of thousands hospitalized per day currently in the United States.

Sam Catania ’24 is the Chief Technology Officer at The Daily. He also is the producer of the weekly video roundup and formerly served as a news beat reporter covering COVID-19 on Stanford's campus and the assessment team leader of The Daily's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team. Sam is a Philadelphia native currently studying Symbolic Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @sbcatania. Contact him at scatania 'at' stanforddaily.com

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