Editorial: Navigating shifting policy from UM and the CDC

When the first case of the omicron variant in Miami-Dade County was reported on Dec. 10, Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava described the news as “a frustrating reminder that the pandemic is not over” on her Twitter, one in a long line of lamentations from politicians and celebrities alike. But statements like Levine-Cava’s have never stopped people from acting according to their beliefs, and they won’t start now.

With policies constantly changing and opinions often conflicting, people have a certain amount of personal freedom in making decisions regarding COVID-19 precautionary measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates for vaccines as the best public health measure to protect against the virus, but it’s unlikely this is the year people will start doing things because “the government said so.”

But the protests of anti-vaxxers fall flat knowing that every U.S. state has maintained some form of vaccine and immunization requirements since 1980. Now, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and subsequent boosters is somehow a cause for asserting political freedoms.

As the omicron variant makes its way across the world, it’s become more common to hear even vaccinated individuals point to breakthrough cases as a sign that vaccines are flawed. The problem is, nobody ever said they weren’t.

Concerns regarding the long-term effects of the vaccine have been determined as improbable by vaccine experts, and data from numerous U.S. jurisdictions shows a growing divide between the number of infections and hospitalizations of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Although vaccines are not impermeable, we do know that the risk of serious infection from COVID overrides rare side effects from inoculation.

The CDC also continues to recommend wearing a mask in all public indoor spaces where community transmission is “substantial” regardless of vaccination status, leaving the decision between wearing one or not in places that do not require up to personal discretion. UM’s policy is consistent with these guidelines, requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces and encouraging outdoor masking, but the university intends to revisit these policies “as more members of our community get vaccinated and the pandemic evolves.”

Lines remain blurry regarding distancing and avoiding transmission of the virus. UM temporarily moving the beginning of spring semester classes online was a necessary decision amidst omicron’s peak, but life still goes on outside of the classroom, and many are growing impatient regarding wearing masks and social distancing.

Gyms and restaurants remain open, Miami nightlife is alive, and finding a balance between continuing on with life and staying safe is up to the individual. As case counts fluctuate, students will have to make their own decisions regarding both personal and community health.

Students and the country will continue to take guidelines as exactly what they are: guidelines, but vaccinations make it easier to break them without endangering the people around you.