On the inconsistency of the rules during the COVID-19 pandemic

Not all rules make sense.

Chandler Baker, Staff Writer

An all-too-familiar sight. (Jordan Cuskey)

When the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, it was a tumultuous time, made worse by the immediate politicization of what would turn into a global catastrophe. As of Feb. 7, SARS-CoV-2 has killed 463,000 people in America and 2.3 million people worldwide. It is immediately clear that this pandemic will go down in history, and we would be wise to learn from it. If this catastrophe has taught us one thing, it is that consistent and logical directive is not only advisable, but necessary during a global health crisis.

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, the rules constantly changed. A prime example of this is a statement from Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He said, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.” This statement was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) until April 3, when the CDC updated its previous advice and recommended that people wear face coverings in public settings.

Some might say that this makes sense — after all, when the pandemic first started in early March 2020, nobody thought it was going to last very long. It makes sense that, under this impression, we wouldn’t need to make any major changes to our daily activities, like mask-wearing. I might agree with those people. The issue came when policy-makers did decide to implement rules.

Have you ever wondered why the parks and churches are closed, but not the bars and breweries? Some of the state-wide restrictions in place are clearly chosen for monetary reasons over public health concerns. Why else would recreational marijuana dispensaries be open? Why would the large, mostly outdoor, zoos be closed?

The situation worsens with the fact that, while regulations to implement disease control should have scientific backing, lawmakers are ignoring the science. Schools have been one of the primary targets of shutdown since the pandemic first started. Public health officials and lawmakers assumed that schools would be sites of superspreading from the beginning and closed them to preemptively prevent transmission.

Since then, however, numerous studies have proven that children carry the smallest viral load and are less likely to transmit the virus than their elders. On top of that, children are one of the demographics most heavily impacted by quarantine. Isolation impacts a child’s ability to learn, disrupts school-provided services that some rely on — such as breakfast and lunch, counseling services, disability services, etc. — and increases the risk of sexual exploitation and violence according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Keeping children at home also affects the ability of parents to work and has a greater impact on households of immigrants, refugees and minorities. Although elementary schools have been proven to house one of the least susceptible populations to COVID-19, they were some of the first institutions to see closure.

Now, have these restrictions kept people from getting the virus? Absolutely yes. Unfortunately, it appears as though they may have done more harm than good. When people began to see the inconsistency in the enforcement of social distancing guidelines, they began to question all of the rules.

This tendency caused a nation-wide display of civil disobedience. Many people — whether online or in person — have rebelled against mask-wearing and social distancing. To some extent, I get their skepticism — even some of the politicians who preach the rules in place don’t practice them. Gavin Newsom, governor of California, was caught at a dinner party while health officials were begging Californians to stay home. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, had her hair blown out at a salon that she had ordered to shut down.

Even Westmont has been a perpetrator of incongruous mandates. Most students by now have questioned the fact that one can eat in large groups, without masks on, underneath the Dining Commons tent. With this option, why does the Dining Commons patio just fifty feet away have plastic screens that divide just two people? If the idea behind this tactic is to cater to various comfort levels, then that contradicts the entire premise of controlling the spread of the disease; the same argument could be used to justify not wearing a mask.

A medical journal in the NIH has shown through extensive research that partial and incomplete implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions — e.g., hand washing, facial covering, social distancing, etc. — can be worse than no intervention at all. Uniform implementation of rules is necessary to decrease community transmission.

In short, directive is more crucial than ever, and in a time where it seems as though rules define our very routine, they need to be all the more clear and consistent. The evidence outlined above proves that, on a local and national level, the regulations are nothing short of contradictory and inconsistent with scientific research. Even Westmont has participated in this pattern of incongruency.

My goal with this piece is not to incite rebellion or dissent. My goal is twofold. One, to heighten understanding on the importance of consistent policy-making. Two, to encourage skepticism in the rules that both Westmont and the government enforces. After all, we can either blindly follow the rules, or we can look for ways to make them better.

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