Earlier this summer, it was announced that the University of Michigan was raising tuition this fall. Students also found out later that they were being charged a $50 fee for COVID-19 resources. Both of these changes were made with the promise that we would have a safe on-campus experience. I then received an email detailing a safety kit that all University of Michigan students would get. When I went to receive a kit, I was disappointed. Is this how my $50 was spent?
The safety kit features two masks, two bandanas, a fever strip, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a pamphlet with information on how to stay safe from the virus. For one thing, the masks do not work that well. Daisy Okpa, a friend and current Master’s student at the School of Public Health, posted a video where she blew out a lighter with her safety kit mask on. Another girl on Tik Tok also blew out a lighter with her safety kit mask, and then when she put on her other cloth mask she was unable to blow out the lighter.
While wearing the mask is better than nothing, it’s extremely ineffective compared to surgery masks or even other cloth masks. Considering we were charged for these masks, I expect better.
If the safety kit mask kept a good seal, it would be nearly impossible to blow out a candle or a flame on a lighter. While blowing out a candle is not a perfect test, it is effective in seeing if additional aerosols are escaping the mask. These aerosols or aerosolized droplets are how COVID-19 spreads. If the safety kit masks are ineffective at containing these particles, then students may unknowingly spread the virus to other students, and be less well-protected against others who may give the virus to them. While wearing the mask is better than nothing, it’s extremely ineffective compared to surgery masks or even other cloth masks. Considering we were charged for these masks, I expect better.
The bandanas are also an interesting and extremely ineffective choice. According to a recent Duke study, bandanas vary widely in the ability to keep aerosols from emitting. Some emit more than 75% of the aerosols that come into contact with the bandana. Once again, these masks may spread the virus as a result. Surgery masks or other cloth masks are more effective than a bandana. Once again, however, the University chose an ineffective substitute for a good mask.
The only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 before it starts is to have everyone test as many times as possible. Thus far, Dr. Robert Ernst has declined to do this.
The kit also includes a bottle of hand sanitizer. Giving students a bottle of hand sanitizer is nice, but ultimately does very little to slow the spread of COVID-19. As previously discussed, COVID-19 spreads through aerosolized droplets, more commonly known as aerosols, that float in the air. This virus has not been shown to live on surfaces or stay on people’s hands. Hand sanitizer may help a bit in containing other diseases, but will not slow the spread of COVID-19. The most effective measures for stopping the spread of COVID-19 remain masking, social distancing, moving activities outside, and better ventilation.
The final item in the kit is the fever strip. A fever strip is a tool that allows students to check their temperature. This is also theater and while it may help tell you if you have COVID-19, it will not slow down the spread of the virus. COVID-19 spreads before patients begin to show symptoms of the virus. This period can last as long as a couple of weeks. By the time someone begins to show symptoms of COVID-19, it is too late. Every person they came into contact with is now at risk of contracting the virus.
The only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 before it starts is to have everyone test as many times as possible. Thus far, Dr. Robert Ernst has declined to do this. If Dr. Ernst and the Board of Regents were genuinely concerned with keeping students safe while they are on campus, they would do more testing. If they did not have the resources to do that, they should have told students to stay home instead of giving them fever strips.
While washing your hands is extremely important in combating other diseases, COVID-19 spreads through aerosolized droplets, more commonly known as aerosols, that float in the air. This virus has not been shown to live on surfaces or stay on people’s hands. Hand sanitizer may help a bit in containing other diseases, but will not slow the spread of COVID-19.
Many will say that the University of Michigan is doing more than others and should be applauded for their efforts. This statement is true in part in comparison to other Universities. UNC-Chapel Hill is perhaps the best example of a University that did not properly plan and as a result, have numerous cases of COVID-19 within the first week.
Our school may be in a better position than other schools, but it does not mean that the administration should be applauded for doing the bare minimum. The administration had months to plan for this semester. They even raised tuition during a financial crisis with the promise that students would be able to go back to school and be safe. While the University of Michigan has done more than most, it is still far from sufficient.
Many other universities in Michigan chose to freeze their tuition this school year. Many of those schools also chose to go online to make sure their students were safe. The University of Michigan raised tuition and promised its students that they would work hard to keep students safe while having limited on-campus experience. If the “safety kit” is any indication, the University is not working nearly hard enough.