Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Wednesday’s news bulletin.
To say the past few weeks have been stressful and frustrating for many would likely be an understatement. Kenyon’s COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent tightening of safety guidelines have brought great criticism, but not, in my view, objective reflection. Instead of considering our situation in tandem with vaccine research, some have chosen to somewhat exaggerate it. There is no way to properly acknowledge the fear, frustration and every other emotion the pandemic has put us through. But we must also acknowledge that things have changed drastically since as recently as last spring. Why? Simply put, we have an amazing tool, perhaps the greatest medical invention of our era: COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines reduce spread and the chance of severe illness and provide a case to have optimism for the remainder of the semester.
First, let us consider how COVID-19 spreads among vaccinated individuals. It is, of course, obvious that COVID-19 can and does spread in vaccinated communities. However, it is also vital to recognize how this spread differs when one is vaccinated and symptomatic versus vaccinated and asymptomatic. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, discusses this difference. “When we’ve seen outbreaks, like those among the Yankees earlier in the year and other cases, almost always people are symptomatic when they’re spreading,” Jha said. “The asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic spread could happen, but we haven’t seen it among vaccinated people with any frequency.”
Let’s apply this information to Kenyon’s current situation with COVID. According to Sept. 12’s Student Council meeting minutes, there have been no hospitalizations and no documented instances of classroom transmission. It is clear that attending class in person poses minimal, if any, risk of transmission from potentially asymptomatic individuals, including close contacts, especially considering that everyone is also wearing a mask. As of Sept. 13, Kenyon’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 57 active cases (2.84% of students). This is a high level of spread, but the rate of cases per day is falling and this number includes asymptomatic individuals, according to the aforementioned Student Council meeting minutes.
The overall low and slowing rate of daily cases is a positive sign that the vaccines — along with the recent rule changes such as reducing the size of indoor gatherings — have been effective in diminishing further spread. This provides room to be optimistic that cases will continue to fall and the enhanced guidelines may soon be dropped.
Vaccine research also continues to demonstrate a high degree of protection from severe illness, including from the delta variant. As reported by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), “A trio of studies … today show that COVID vaccines protect very well against the Delta (B1617.2) variant, with unvaccinated people having 5 times the risk of infection and more than 10 times the risk of hospitalization or death compared with vaccinated people.” Researchers in one of these studies involving 1175 veterans showed a vaccine efficacy rate of 95.1% against hospitalization for veterans under 65, and an efficacy rate of 79.8% for older veterans. This means that for every vaccinated member of the Kenyon community, including faculty and staff of all ages, the vaccine provides strong protection against hospitalization and death.
But let us not ignore members of our community who are immunocompromised or medically exempt from vaccination. As reported by the CDC, studies indicate that immunocompromised people are less protected by the vaccine. Luckily, they and the rest of us are in the safest place we could possibly be that is social in any capacity — around students who are 96% vaccinated and masking indoors.
Despite those who wish to negatively portray our situation, we are actively using our greatest defense against COVID-19 in vaccines. No vaccine is perfect, and risk exists in almost everything we do. The level of care that students show for our community is admirable and is something we should all be proud of, but we must also not let that care turn into unfounded panic. Calls for all-remote classes or other such conjectures that Kenyon was reckless to take in so many students are thoroughly refuted by vaccine research. Instead, students should objectively evaluate the risk on campus, primarily informed by such research.
Garrett Culbertson ’23 is a political science major and Japanese minor from Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at email@example.com.