Ortiz: Let this Wildcat Wellness be the last

Sterling Ortiz, Assistant Opinion Editor

One year ago, the answer to lifting this COVID-19 pandemic seemed clear: go back to a “normal life” as staggered as possible, try not to get the virus and keep the hospitals below capacity until the United States starts developing vaccines. Northwestern students begrudgingly accepted all kinds of restrictions, from mask mandates to severe indoor capacity restrictions. Whether people enjoyed the restrictions or not, they could see NU’s intent. 

Now, however, I believe that NU should avoid university wide lockdowns — or restrictions similar to Wildcat Wellness — because they only further prevent those who have consistently abided by NU COVID-19 policy from taking advantage of all that the University has to offer. 

These restrictions came at a social cost. Students, professors, various school advisors and other staff confined themselves to Zoom screens and pretended that virtual meetings were as good as or better than in-person interactions. 

Now, nearing 22 months of a pandemic in the United States, I want to know NU and the federal government’s goal. Are we, as a whole, trying to get to zero cases? Are we putting lipstick on a pig and enforcing restrictions for street credibility? Are we trying to keep the hospitals and their staff stable? I feel adrift in search of an active goal.

President Joe Biden isn’t exactly on my shortlist of favorite American leaders, but I also cannot envy his position as the leader of a gigantic, Balkanized nation with whiplash from changing COVID-19 policies from county to county and region to region. How do you make national policy when states led by conservative lawmakers undermine your administration in every way possible, and the majority of people in those states will keep their deleterious government just to spite the supposed enemy? 

Just as it is difficult for mask-wearing, vaccinated Americans to watch others put the country at risk out of spite, it is discouraging for NU students who continuously follow the University’s COVID-19 policy to have to endure another quarter of restrictions. I believe the University administration has ignored the anger of people like me going through this pandemic, who feel like Charlie Brown, acting in good faith and never getting respect. From my talks with friends at NU and at my dorm in Berlin, I believe these feelings simmer underneath the surface, ready to break out.

I have friends who drove three and a half hours across the state last April to Milan in the Quad Cities region just to get their first vaccine shot, and nine months later, we still have to make sacrifices? For whom? For people who cry every day over having to prove vaccination or wear a mask?

While these last questions are rhetorical, the social question remains. To that end, I advocate for a policy that acknowledges that the omicron variant will eventually strike everyone like the sun rises in the morning. This variant may spread as fast as measles and can hide in animals and all a person can do is fortify themselves with the vaccine and any medicine proven to work. A positive test is just that — an acknowledgment of reality we all seek to outrun, not a black mark on your name.

We should avoid severe illness and hospitalizations and preserve everyday life and productivity. In light of these facts, NU should implement a strict policy of allowing only the vaccinated and recovered on campus grounds, with mandatory proof as frequently as desired. The trade-off should be voluntary masking and no mandatory capacity restrictions. NU should have medical-grade N95 masks and high-quality rapid tests ready to distribute to every dorm and common area, as well as start an on-campus booster campaign if needed.

Under the current knowledge and tools, make this current Wildcat Wellness NU’s last period of heavy restrictions and let the people rebuild their lives. With vaccines and existing expertise, now is time to see each other without reservation, to climb out of our foxholes and shed our defensive stance. This is the least we as a people within NU deserve.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fourth-year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.