This fall, over 19,000 undergraduate students will make an appearance on campus, sit in lecture halls or move into dorms.
In a world that has seemingly left the COVID-19 pandemic in the past, masked faces are now few and far between. Local enforcement of face coverings has all but disappeared since Orange County lifted its indoor mask mandate on March 7.
While COVID-19 hardly inspires the same fears it did at the onset of the 2021-2022 academic year, it left an undeniable impact on UNC students. As we go about what feels like normal day-to-day life, we are left to wonder: Can the University be trusted to handle another public health crisis?
Last fall, within weeks of the first day of classes, five identified COVID-19 clusters wreaked havoc on campus. A university with the financial and technological means to pursue online learning and prevent further outbreaks chose not to. A university with the resources to support teachers and students via remote learning chose not to — even in the face of petitions from its faculty and staff.
Instead, COVID-19 remained a fear among students and faculty throughout the academic year. As a reminder, UNC System President Peter Hans has stated in the past that "each Chancellor has the authority to modify and tailor COVID-19 mitigation measures" on their respective campuses.
A university with the authority to uphold the on-campus mask mandate for as long as necessary instead chose to follow Orange County guidelines and, in the process, failed to recognize the unique potential for the spread of viruses on a college campus. A university with the ability to provide adequate quarantine housing and meals chose not to do so this spring.
Now, with monkeypox posing a disproportionate threat to LGBTQ+ individuals, how can we ensure that UNC will take the proper steps to protect students? How can we trust that the University will respond in a timely fashion when it has time and again dragged its feet to institute safe COVID-19 policies? While COVID-19 cases peaked, the University welcomed students on campus with open arms and no regard for the health and wellness of those it housed.
How can we trust that UNC’s response to monkeypox will focus on the health and wellness needs of those impacted most severely, including gay and bisexual men? Nearly all of N.C.’s confirmed cases fall under this demographic, with 70 percent of said cases affecting Black men.
“As with all of our decisions during the pandemic, they were made in consultation with our infectious disease experts, and in accordance with the policies set forth by the Centers for Disease Control, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Orange County Health Department,” UNC Media Relations said in an email to the Daily Tar Heel.
Now, with North Carolina facing 111 confirmed cases of monkeypox as of Aug. 8, the University’s capacity to address the crisis remains limited due to supply chain issues.
According to UNC Media Relations, Campus Health is able to identify symptoms, provide testing when clinically indicated and recommend vaccination. Despite being approved as a monkeypox vaccine provider by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Campus Health has not yet received any vaccines to administer.
Not only must public health outreach efforts be expansive, they must be intersectional and address the unique health risks posed to gay and bisexual men.
Blanket statements made via mass email communications and Campus Health FAQs cannot begin to address the hands-on, proactive needs of a young adult community fearing the monkeypox virus. We need an amplification of the University’s existing safer sex resources and guides to staying protected in high-exposure areas.
We have to trust our institutions to not just tell us what is best, but to actively work toward positive health outcomes, using its resources to protect students and promote safe habits in the physical spaces that students occupy.
So, can we trust UNC to competently handle another public health crisis — whether it be a surge of COVID-19 variants, the rise of monkeypox or any other threat to student health and wellness?
If history tells us anything — absolutely not.
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