All is not fair in COVID and war

We need healthy discourse on campus about real solutions to balancing students’ mental health and keeping everyone safe — but herd immunity and strict lockdowns aren’t it.


Washington and Lee students are straight up not having a good time – and it has driven people to lash out.

Not even an hour after the Covid Committee meeting on Oct. 8 ended, I was sent a link to, a site started by an anonymous student (or students) for “documenting administrative follies and brainstorming improved COVID policies”.

The sentiments on there aren’t necessarily new – an Instagram meme account @covidatwlu has been documenting the resentment and frustration among students for a few weeks now.

“The administration isn’t running a school, they’re running a prison,” a post on the account says. “Students should be allowed to do what they wish off-campus as long as they abide by state and local laws. We’re adults, not children, and we deserve to be treated as such.”

“We go to a school that is supposed to have a tight-knit community, but now it feels like its faculty vs. student and student vs. student,” another post reads.

And another: “Administration: ‘We hear you’…and we’re doing nothing.”

I understand where these feelings come from.

I’m tired. I’m stressed. It’s getting colder. I want to see my friends. I want to be able to see more than the same five people everyday (as much as I love them).

But the solution isn’t to be callous and ignorant about the impact of COVID-19 on human life.

Below is a quote from an anonymous letter published on the website:

Difficult decisions of course have to be made, all of which will have tradeoffs, but if W&L truly values the overall health of their students and the traditions at this school, then they will make changes. I think the best way to handle the virus would be to mimic the approach of other countries where day-to-day life has changed little during the pandemic while still managing to protect vulnerable citizens. Let students gather with a few rules:

• Maximum gathering size of 250 people in accordance with Virginia regulations

• No shared drinking sources

• Students can “go out” once per week (Keep track of this through trav rides)

• Must be outside

• Masks required on trav

• Masks handy when close contact occurs

• Students that attend gatherings cannot spend time at restaurants/ establishments in the city of Lexington or elsewhere until 2 weeks after attending

• Randomly test hundreds of students every day of the week (Make people with positive tests isolate)

This will likely result in an increase in cases, but that should not be troubling considering how safe this disease is for people our age. This plan protects vulnerable members of the Lexington community while avoiding destruction of the lives of every single student. This will slowly allow the student population to reach herd immunity under good control. Herd immunity is not some right-wing alt-science phenomenon, it is in fact the logical conclusion of any infectious disease and is something that should be worked toward while properly evaluating other costs.

These are not truly viable solutions.

Herd immunity is a scientific idea that exists; not a right-wing alt-science phe- nomenon. You’re correct. According to Johns Hopkins, herd immunity is “when most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, [providing] indirect protection — or herd immunity (also called herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease.”

But if it really were that easy, why do you think Dr. Fauci hasn’t suggested it? Why do you think the entire world is mocking America’s response to COVID-19 if it was as easy as just infecting everyone and becoming immune?

According to Mayo Clinic, there is no specific percentage for when herd immunity is established — each virus has a different percentage of the population that must have been infected. For the highly contagious measles virus, 94% of the population must be immune to establish herd immunity.

In countries like the U.S., we are only able to establish herd immunity with highly contagious but preventable viruses like measles, smallpox and polio because of vaccines. But those are also viruses that have libraries of research behind them, and doctors understand the nature and course of the illness.

This is not true with COVID-19. The novel coronavirus is, as the name suggests, an entirely new strain of corona-virus never seen before, and scientists and doctors are still trying to understand its progression and side-effects.

Many experts estimate that at least 70% of Americans — over 200 million people — would have to be infected with COVID-19 to reach the herd immunity threshold.

Not only would that number overwhelm healthcare systems in America, it would also mean millions of people would have to die first.

Let’s do the math: the global death rate according to the Johns Hopkins Corona- virus Resource Center is approximately 2.8%. If 200 million people in America need to be infected for us to get herd immunity, that means 5.6 million would die first.

That’s the entire state of Minnesota or Colorado or Wisconsin.

But okay, say that’s not enough to convince you. After all, one death is a tragedy but a million is just a statistic. And our demographic is the least likely to die from this virus anyway, right? And who can blame us? We’re young, and these are meant to be the best years of our lives. Why shouldn’t we be able to just live?

Yes, the individuals in our demographic usually recover. But research has shown that we are the most likely to transmit the virus to people who cannot recover. And that’s not just older individuals.

Think about everyone you have some sort of contact with everyday, even if it’s not necessarily close contact.

Your professors who have young children. Your friends who might have asthma, but aren’t announcing it for the world to know. Your friends who are stressed, depressed, or anxious and have weaker immune systems as a result. Your roommates. Your classmates. The person walking by you on Cadaver Bridge when your mask isn’t fully pulled up over your nose. The person you’re running by when you’re on the Chessie Trail because it’s hard to breathe with a mask on and you think you’re alone. The friends you invite into your home. The friends you eat with outdoors. The community members who serve your food at Taps or Napa Thai. The sweet man who works behind the counter at Sugar Maple Trading Co. The Pronto worker that knows you and your order by name. The Trav monitor or driver who will inevitably have to tell an inebriated student over and over to put on their mask. The live-in house moms or dads in sorority/fraternity houses who chose to come back to take care of the girls or guys who live there.

Every one of these people is someone’s grandparent, parent, sister, brother, wife, husband, partner, child, and/or friend that you’re okay with infecting, without regard for whether they live or die.

I’m not trying to guilt you: that’s just a fact. But if that makes you feel guilty, then I think you have some re-evaluating to do.

At the end of the day, it is unbelievably ignorant and callous to think that loosening restrictions and the subsequent increase in cases “should not be troubling considering how safe this disease is for people our age”. A phased plan for everyone in the student body to obtain COVID-19 under “good control” is not realistic nor safe.

Infections aren’t just a number. And other people’s lives aren’t something you can endanger because you want to go out and party with 249 other people.

If we couldn’t even stay locked-down properly for the first two weeks of school, what are the chances that students wouldn’t share drinks or wear masks on Trav? What are the chances that we could still protect vulnerable citizens of the local community if we tried herd immunity?

That being said, I truly am not dismissing any of the other points brought up in the letter.

Our mental health is tanking.

I know of people who have taken their lives because of the mental strain of strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Students are being punished unfairly, with no chance for due process or appeal. The rules are inconsistent and vague in some areas, and administrators seem to be taking advantage of that to hand out sanc- tions and probations like candy.

The school only has six counselors for over 2,000 students, and the waitlist is two weeks or longer. (The school has also faced lawsuits in recent years over negligence on the part of the Counseling Center.)

First-year students are thinking of transferring because they see their friends at other schools seemingly having the best time of their lives.

I had one freshmen girl tell me in D-hall that they hadn’t even seen their entire class in-person yet. This is not the close-knit community they were promised.

So, I get it. I do. We are all struggling and it feels like no one is listening. This unfair conduct process and harsh rules have bred resentment and depression on the same campus that many of us couldn’t bear to leave just seven months ago.

Now, people can’t wait to leave.

But the solution isn’t to open up the floodgates.

There needs to be better communication between the various committees and groups in the administration (like Student Affairs) that are handling issues related to COVID-19.

I beg of our administrators, our professors, our deans and our provosts: please listen to what we are saying. To our concerns, our worries, our fears.

We understand how difficult it is to run an institution of higher learning during a pandemic. We know you got flack for bringing us back to small, rural Lexington in the middle of a pandemic. We know the massive amounts of money you put into PPE, hand sanitizer stations, and testing. We know you are trying to get us through a semester without sending us home or risking an outbreak. We know you had to figure out a whole new way of teaching, whether it was virtually or hybrid. We know the risks you’re taking if you’re teaching us in person, or working as facilities or staff members.

But we’re not robots.

After eight grueling weeks (with four more to go!) of classes with high stress and high standards — on top of extracurriculars — we need a break.

We need time to ourselves, where we don’t need to have a running to-do list in our heads.

We need to feel like our administrators care about us as people, not as numbers or optics.

We need straightforward communication about rules and conduct proceedings be- cause we deserve to be treated like adults, not children with their hands caught in the cookie jar.

COVID-19 has forced us all to make sacrifices. But our mental health and our support systems shouldn’t have to be some of them.