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OPINION: Please, wear a mask this fall

Members of the USF community need to get vaccinated and wear masks if we are to achieve herd immunity and move on from this pandemic. ORACLE PHOTO/Leda Alvim

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175 on July 30 that bans schools from enforcing mask mandates, despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida have reached a record high. New cases have increased almost eightfold during the month of July and have more than doubled in the past three weeks, federal data shows, from a surge in cases brought on by the delta variant. 

With USF returning to in-person classes for the fall, the delta variant remains a looming threat for the health of students and faculty, aggravated by a decrease in immunizations, lax mask usage and poor implementation of social distancing. Observing these safety guidelines is crucial to stomping out the pandemic.

This recent mutation has hit Hillsborough County hard, with weekly case averages increasing from 110 in late June to over 1600 this past week.    

Some are still skeptical of the vaccine, with less than 50% of Hillsborough County’s population vaccinated. Parts of the USF population also may not be wearing masks come Monday, which could exacerbate COVID-19 levels combined with the low levels of vaccinated residents.

A recent social media poll from the USF subreddit showed 21%, or over 200 of the nearly 1,000 USF students polled, weren’t planning to wear masks on campus.

Florida, which has a vaccination rate of 52%, has recorded 600,000 new cases in the past month (a record high). New York, with a comparable population and a vaccination rate of 58%, reported only 97,000 cases for the same period of time.

As such, immunizations are crucial to ending the spread, and USF students need to continue to get vaccinated and wear masks to more quickly achieve herd immunity, according to USF epidemiologist Edwin Michael. 

“You’re not out of the woods, because anytime people drop their guard we are further from herd immunity with [mutations like] the delta variant,” said Michael. 

“We are calculating that around 90% of people need to be immune to get herd immunity. In Florida, we are about 75% immune as a result of vaccinations and naturally through infection. Another 15% needs to be vaccinated. If vaccination immunity was generated long term, then this could be the last significant wave, and we will see the back of this pandemic early next year.”

USF makes it easy for students to do their part, offering free vaccinations to students on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the Argos Study Lounge. The university has also encouraged students to wear masks on campus, according to an Aug. 13 universitywide email. 

The end of the pandemic is in sight, and USF students and faculty can do their part to stomp out the pandemic by taking these precautionary measures while on campus this fall.