Op-Ed: USG’s COVID Response Should Focus on Vaccines and Personal Health

Mask mandates and mass-shutdowns are less effective and more intrusive

USG guidelines regarding COVID-19 regulations for the fall semester have been measured but broad. Most updates from Georgia Southern or from USG recommend a variety of actions students can take to slow the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, nothing has been made mandatory, with some exceptions regarding the medical center and shuttling services.

Based on data regarding hospitalization rates of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and due to the ineffectual trickle-down of information from the CDC and DPH, USG should shift their messaging and focus on student vaccinations and the physical health of the students.

“While the other strategies I listed are important in our everyday lives, we have tried to align our messaging with GDPH and CDC in order to reinforce and support the importance of vaccination and mask use, with a special emphasis on vaccination,” said Dr. Brian Deloach, Georgia Southern’s medical director.

While the other strategies I listed are important in our everyday lives, we have tried to align our messaging with GDPH and CDC in order to reinforce and support the importance of vaccination and mask use, with a special emphasis on vaccination.

— Dr. Brian Deloach

The full list of strategies Deloach included were

  1. Washing your hands
  2. Not touching your face
  3. Wearing a face covering indoors or around crowds
  4. Covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow or tissue
  5. Avoiding proximity to others when sick
  6. Getting plenty of sleep
  7. Exercising regularly
  8. Eating a well-balanced diet

Deloach also mentioned that because no single method is perfect at preventing viral spread, following as many of these guidelines as possible presents the best course of action for students at this time.

I’m having a difficult time accepting these recommendations for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s somewhat disconcerting to observe the chain of command responsible for Georgia Southern’s messaging surrounding COVID.

Brian Deloach’s July 30 COVID update states, “Per state and University System of Georgia (USG) guidance, we cannot require the vaccine…” confirming that Georgia Southern University’s regulations or lack thereof are dependent on USG’s guidelines.

USG’s website indicates that their recommendations are based on data provided primarily by Georgia’s Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) USG encouraging masks and vaccines hardly differs from the CDC’s recommendations.

These hand-me-down recommendations bother me because they seem careful not to offend anybody who disagrees with them, and because it makes national data seem more relevant to us than regional or local data.

First, vaccinations and masks are arguably the most hotly debated topics in the country today. Both present a classic philosophical battle: How do you value security versus freedom, and how do you know when either is at stake?

“Urging” and “strongly recommending” actions is using less offensive verbiage but accomplishing little, and students following these recommendations are more likely to put on a mask (the easier option) than they are to get vaccinated (the more difficult, arguably more effective option.)

Second, if GSU’s policies are trickling down from the CDC, or even from the DPH, the solutions may be too macro in scale to be effective. There are a variety of factors that can affect how the Delta variant will impact a community, including the amount of hospital beds available, the physical health of the population and the population’s vaccination rate.

Ideally, each individual campus would be able to come up with their own COVID regulations based on the data surrounding their specific population, but this is impossible under the current structure.

Which brings me to my final point: prevention messaging towards students should be primarily focused on physical health and vaccination.

As of August 26, Atlanta hospitals have been struggling to find room for their COVID patients. Wellstar Health reported that 90% of their nearly 640 COVID patients are unvaccinated, and that breakthrough cases for vaccinated patients rarely required an ICU visit.

One worker at the hospital was quoted as saying that the situation would be much different if the patients had all been vaccinated.

Nationally, as of Jul. 22 2021, 97% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

A peer-reviewed study from the UK published Aug. 27 pulled data from 43,338 positive COVID cases, both of the Alpha and Delta variants, and found only 1.9% of these cases were from fully-vaccinated individuals.

Finally, in New York, famously home to a large and dense population, only 0.33% percent of infections between Jan.17 and Aug. 7 were breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated individuals.

The data continues to suggest that vaccinated individuals are at very low risk of catching a deadly breakthrough case unless they are already immunocompromised.

For students who do not have any pre-existing immunodeficiency, combining a healthy lifestyle with the vaccine is an excellent way to prevent serious illness if you do happen to contract the virus.

Deloach mentioned the benefits of exercise and eating a balanced diet earlier, but I believe that this aspect should be given much more emphasis. Poor diet and lack of exercise negatively impact our immune systems, putting us at greater risk of all diseases, including COVID.

Outdoor exercise is a great way to increase your fitness and a safe amount of sunlight can provide the body with Vitamin D, a vitamin that has been linked to preventing serious COVID cases.

Lowering sugar intake is one of the most effective dietary choices in boosting your immune system, and has even been directly linked to preventing dangerous cases of COVID.

The USG is a rigid system that is managed by the state of Georgia, and it’s understandable that this system cannot be easily changed. It still frustrates me that the messaging, in this time of crisis, comes through so many filters and does not explore solutions outside of the preventative measures that are handed down.

The data shows that the best way to keep yourself and others safe is by getting the vaccine and staying physically healthy, however you decide to do that is up to you.

Instead we are being given a variety of different guidelines, suggestions and recommendations that seem more intent on covering every base possible instead of focusing on the most effective solutions.

To learn more about Fall 2021 USG guidelines, visit their website and read their Fall 2021 guidance from May 2021.

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit Georgia Southern’s COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution, read COVID-19 Vaccine Virtual Town Hall, or watch COVID Vaccines Unmasked: Questions and Answers from an Immunologist.