Last week, I had my first in-person group meeting at Case Western Reserve University since March 2020. And while we were wearing masks, we were not socially distant. I appreciated the joy of that face-to-face meeting because we have had virtual meetings for almost 18 months. I am still convinced that no matter how far virtual reality progresses, nothing can beat face-to-face communication; it allows for easier engagement and information exchange. In my own experience, in-person meetings improve communication reliability and boost the overall productivity of group meetings.
I am excited that CWRU is reopening for in-person learning this fall semester and I can’t wait to see a new, vibrant atmosphere. We will again see campus life in an engaging environment, from meeting classmates in a classroom to connecting with the local community through student activities. I’m quite optimistic this school year, at the very least, will not be as dull as last year. However, while it is wonderful that we are returning to a sense of normalcy, it’s important to remember that not everyone is vaccinated, and while we have eased on our social distancing restrictions, we should still do our part to wear a mask regardless.
We should admit that the CWRU community has done well in terms of vaccination rates. According to President Eric Kaler, a full 92% of the CWRU community has reported full vaccination status, which is higher than the vaccination rate of any county in Ohio. This should make us feel fairly confident about the safety of our campus and remain hopeful in-person classes won’t be disrupted throughout this school year. For those of us who were enrolled during the spring 2020 semester, we were hassled by having to pack up our stuff, leave campus and start learning remotely.
For those who had to go through COVID-19 restrictions last year and miss out on their usual student activities and social lives, I hope you will make it up this year. After a difficult past year, you should plan to live a balanced campus life, which should help improve your overall well-being. You haven’t forgotten yet how restrictive your social life was last year, so make this year count.
Even though the recent ease of restrictions is a relief, we still should be cautious about the tricky Delta variant. This variant is twice as transmissible as the original virus that emerged in late 2019; this can be seen in the current statistics, with the recent seven-day average exceeding over 100,000 cases.
For those of us who are fully vaccinated, it is unpleasant, yet necessary that we must wear masks again, especially indoors. We are not witnessing the tail-end of the pandemic because the fact is that fully vaccinated individuals only make up slightly above 50% of the population; there are nearly 100 million Americans who have not received the vaccine yet. This saddens me because other countries who are receiving vaccines from the U.S., such as Canada or Germany, have higher full vaccination rates than us.
Masking is a temporary measure that we need to cope with, for the time being, until the vast majority of our population is protected. If currently vaccinated people mask up, they can help contain the rapid transmission of the Delta variant to those who are unvaccinated.
When vaccines were first rolled out on campus last spring, it felt as though everybody was eager to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves. After receiving the two shots in their arms, everyone was still required to wear masks. And now most, if not nearly all, of the CWRU community is vaccinated, so even though it might seem inconvenient, masking should be viewed as a means to slow the virus spread while the unvaccinated local population is getting vaccinated. In other words, masking is now becoming more of a collective social responsibility than a protective and personal one.
In the early days of the pandemic, I used to hear words such as “we will get through this” and “together we can beat COVID.” Back then, those words sounded idealistic to me because there was no vaccine available and cases were surging. Now, I’m beginning to think these words are becoming more realistic. We may not have gotten over the virus yet, but we are getting close, so we need to do our part to end the pandemic as soon as possible by masking up.