Not one week into the semester, a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 59,000 Texans took one of our own — biomedical sciences sophomore Kirstyn Katherine Ahuero. Only 20 years old, Ahuero had aspirations to become a psychiatric nurse, according to an obituary published by Kerrville Funeral Home. Just last summer, during a national uptick in suicide attempts caused by the pandemic, Ahuero volunteered for the National Suicide Hotline.
Now, many of us sit and ask ourselves, “What could we, both as university officials and students, do differently?”
Any university response is constrained by the Texas government, which not only refuses to enforce necessary safety measures, such as mask mandates, but prohibits the university from enforcing these measures as well.
Yet the university could still be doing more. In fact, despite the occasional laminated sign around campus “strongly encouraging” Aggies to wear masks, students have little indication that we remain in the middle of a pandemic. Gone are the reminders to remain six feet apart. Pushes to get more students vaccinated are sporadic at best. Hybrid classes are not a sure option.
What might loosely be defined as hybrid classes — “teach[ing] remotely in the classroom with students in attendance,” according to university guidelines — are only mentioned when a faculty member has been exposed to COVID-19.
As for the students? Professors have the ability to provide Zoom links to those who request online participation, but only when students test positive. Far from being optional, the school should make hybrid classrooms mandatory. If not for the people who test positive, then for the immunocompromised students who are at the mercy of their peers’ politics. For those students who do intend to take classes in person, professors should more aggressively offer incentives to wear masks as is recommended by the university.
But especially disappointing are the limited number of on-campus quarantine rooms. In a recent press conference, Texas A&M Chief Operations Officer Greg Hartman told The Battalion that there are 60 quarantine rooms, and that “we haven’t gone anywhere near filling them up yet.” But a closer look reveals that this is fun with statistics. As of Sept. 12, there are over 1,500 active reported cases among campus members. And while students who live within five hours of the university are asked to travel home for their quarantines, this may be impossible given how bad a student’s reaction to COVID-19 is.
Examples such as these are why we at The Battalion pay little mind to Hartman when he says, that “Every step that [A&M] can take, we’re taking.” This simply isn’t true. Either A&M steps up its prevention measures, or Ahuero’s death, as tragic as it was, will not be the last.
Just because both the Texas government and university officials haven’t taken commonsensical steps doesn’t mean we, as students, should do nothing. It would behoove all of us to remember the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing. More than 10 percent of all of Texas’s COVID-19 casualties since the start of the pandemic occurred in the last month, with 296 Texans having died on Tuesday alone.
We have a choice. A choice that many of us have neglected to make since March of 2020. A choice to make our campus safer.
Each and every Aggie has the ability to get vaccinated on campus, social distance and put on a mask before class. Some reading this may prefer not to get the vaccine. Others might believe wearing a mask is an infringement on their personal freedom. Those who have made these decisions have accepted the possibility that they may contract COVID-19 and suffer the consequences.
However, we must also consider how our decisions will affect others. It has long been established that masks do not fully protect us from the disease, but they will prevent us from spreading the disease to someone else who may not have the same choices we do — like our immunocompromised classmates or professors with kids too young to be vaccinated. No student gets to choose with whom they go to class. To forego these basic safety precautions is to force one’s personal choice on every student with whom they come into contact, thereby endangering their lives.
We are called the Aggie Family. Our family is suffering at the hands of COVID-19, and we have the power to change that. If no one will protect the Aggies, the Aggies must protect each other.
You write, the "university response is constrained by the Texas government, which not only refuses to enforce necessary safety measures, such as mask mandates, but prohibits the university from enforcing these measures as well." The university is choosing to let the Governor constrain its actions. Other Texas public colleges, universities and K-12 districts have mask mandates in place and are choosing to open themselves up to lawsuit. The A&M Board of Trustees can choose to have a mask mandate and face potential lawsuit, but is not. They are choosing to be constrained, but it is not necessary. For example, the Austin Community College Board of Trustees chose to require a mask mandate, regardless. A&M can (and should) do the same. Giving the Board of Trustees a pass based on the Governor's actions is allowing them to pass the buck on their responsibilities when a student dies on campus due to COVID.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.