Shepherdstown, W.Va — In March of 2020, America shutdown to avoid Covid-19 ravaging its way through our population like wildfire. Nearly two years later, the pandemic, and the vaccines made to prevent it, have become a highly controversial, highly debated topic. How do Shepherd and Jefferson county stand on the issue?
Contrary to earlier in the pandemic, West Virginia has fallen behind in vaccination rates. According to the CDC, West Virginia is now tied for last with Wyoming at 40%. Likewise, West Virginia is the third lowest state for recipients that have taken at least one dose, at 47.5%.
With some of the lowest vaccination rates within the United States, West Virginia is seeing some of the highest spikes. Jefferson County, according to recent CDC data, is experiencing the highest 7-day rolling case average, at 31.8 cases, since January of 2021.
(Note that the chart on the right, courtesy of the CDC, has two input errors on 2021-09-15 and 2021-09-13)
Though having one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, Jefferson County is still at an extremely low 40.4%.
Unfortunately, there has been a notable increase in both beds used and ICU beds used to accommodate covid-19 patients.
A possible reason as to why, is the spread of the Delta variant and its effect on unvaccinated people.
The Delta Variant
Originating in India, it spread across the world and by May 20, 2020, the first cases were reported in America.
Despite reports of other variants, the Delta Variant (B.1.617.2) is the only notable one in the United States, accountable for over 99% of all variant cases.
According to virologist Dr. Nadia Roan, associate professor at UC San Francisco, the Delta Variant has a higher transmissibility, at more than twice the infectious rate of the standard virus. This is due to the variant replicating more of itself, at a faster rate. Fortunately, this means it is quicker to notice, only taking about four days for symptoms to show, rather than the standard six days.
Delta, according to some studies, may also cause more severe symptoms as well as reduced effectiveness in vaccines, even in the vaccinated population. Though, the population in greatest danger remains the unvaccinated populations.
Even in the uncommon breakthrough cases, vaccinated people carry lower viral loads and have lower rates of hospitalization.
What Does Our Community Think?
A survey composed of 100 randomly selected Shepherd students yielded insights as to how the community felt about safety precautions, vaccination rates, and the controversial matter of vaccine mandates.
According to the survey, 91% of the population is comfortable with the precautions Shepherd has taken this semester. In the 9% that dissented, many said it was because the precautions were good, but they felt as if there was little enforcement of the policies.
As of the publishing of this article, the Shepherd covid-19 dashboard shows that there has been an increase in the vaccination rate. Since the survey was conducted, there has been a 4% increase in student vaccination rates, and a 5% increase in employees vaccinated.
Some of those that said they’d be comfortable taking a class with both an unvaccinated student and professor did so with the qualifier that the unvaccinated individuals behaved according to Shepherd guidelines.
However, according to Holly Frye, during an SGA Senate meeting, few showed up to the surveillance testing. Each week, 150 unvaccinated students have to show up for routine surveillance testing, but on the week of Sept. 6, only 25 students showed up.
Another anonymous report states that one of their professors not only conducted class with a mesh mask, but also said students could unmask if they wanted to. Directly opposed to both CDC recommendation, and Shepherd University policy.
Recently, the girls soccer team had a possible covid breach. If over three players test positive it would put the entire team into quarantine and would cancel some of their season.
These occurrences bring into question the validity of vaccine mandates. Note, in the student survey, the vaccine mandate question does not equal 100%, as 3% of students declined to comment.
While many of the no-voters cited personal freedoms; the yes-voters said they would feel safer on-campus if vaccine mandate policies are enacted.
Despite the controversiality of a potential mandate, Shepherd has the legal precedent to enact the policy. Even other West Virginia schools are pushing for a mandate, as WVU faculty overwhelmingly approved a proposal to enact a vaccine mandate.