The end of March is monumental for Berry as it marks the beginning of providing vaccines to faculty, staff and students on campus. But, we should still be cautious of COVID-19 and the potential disadvantages to not following social distancing and mask guidelines. 

In our haste to return to normalcy, we must remember that the pandemic is not over yet. We have reached a milestone in Georgia with state-wide eligibility for the vaccine, but the vaccine is not fully effective until five weeks after the first administration. Three weeks after the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, we will be eligible for the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but even then, we are not fully protected. According to the CDC, the vaccine does not provide full protection until two weeks after the second shot. 

The population in Georgia is close to 11 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, approximately 3.6 million doses have been administered. However, only 1.1 million people are fully vaccinated as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. This means that only about 10% of the total Georgia population are fully protected against COVID-19, or about 20% of the adult population, which is about 6 million residents. 

These numbers tell us that the pandemic is far from over. COVID- 19 cases continue to be reported and while the numbers are lower than ever before, this disease is still disrupting lives and families. The Georgia Department of Health reports 825 confirmed active COVID-19 cases as of March 29. As we know all too well, this number can quickly skyrocket if precautions are not taken. 

This past week, Berry eased certain restrictions that were aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The stanchions in Viking Court and outside of the Post Office have been taken down, and while the social distancing spots remain on the ground, this relaxation of COVID-19 prevention guidelines is unacceptable. All of this happened before vaccine administration began on campus. Another change happened in the dining hall. The waffle station, citrus water and make-it-yourself sandwich station returned. This introduces another common contact surface for students, faculty and staff on campus. 

The Berry community is undoubtedly grateful and lucky to be receiving vaccines on-campus, but this is only the beginning of having full immunity. A second dose of the vaccine is required in three weeks, and we have another two weeks after that before the people who receive the vaccine are completely protected. We have five more weeks before the majority of campus is fully protected from COVID-19. However, campus-wide vaccination is not a term we can apply to our situation because students, faculty and staff are not required to receive the vaccine. While everyone should receive the vaccine, not everyone will and that’s the reality of the situation. So even after the five weeks have passed, we are not fully protected in the “Berry bubble.” 

Berry administration keeps mentioning herd immunity and is insinuating a certain threshold of campus immunity. Beyond that threshold, things would return to “normal,” but what is this threshold? Why are we okay with having herd immunity and not complete protection from COVID-19? This is a disease that has devastated the entire world and hit home for everyone at Berry in one way or another. We cannot forget the severity of the last year. Ignoring the terrible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would be a disservice to the millions of people who have lost their lives to it. We would be disgracing all of the hard work of everyone worldwide. Healthcare workers have sacrificed their time, lives and normalcy to work to care for us during the pandemic. This selflessness does not deserve to be tossed aside just because a vaccine has been introduced. 

We are on the road out of the pandemic, but we have miles to go. Don’t allow the vaccine to make you narrow-minded and get tunnel vision. Acknowledge the sacrifices that everyone has made, and get your vaccine. Before full immunity is reached, continue to observe social distancing guidelines and please, wear your mask. Even after you have full immunity, continue to be an example for others. Don’t stop wearing a mask or social distancing in every situation. People may say that they are fully vaccinated, but we do not have a way of knowing if they are or not. So, be safe, stay cautious and be thankful for the opportunity to get a vaccine. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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