Opinion | We need a little bit of blissful ignorance to get by in COVID times

Unmasked+Pitt+students+at+a+football+game+against+New+Hampshire+at+Heinz+Field+on+Sept.+25.+

Joy Cao | Senior Staff Photographer

Unmasked Pitt students at a football game against New Hampshire at Heinz Field on Sept. 25.

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

Pitt football defeated Clemson on Saturday with the help of a season-high 60,594 fans in attendance. 

While community members are required to wear masks at events in University buildings, the same doesn’t apply to cheering in the stands at Heinz Field or at many of the surrounding bars. This seems like a recipe for disaster — a packed stadium of mostly maskless, screaming fans, with arms wrapped around each other as they sing “Sweet Caroline” in each others’ faces. 

But according to data from American Institutes for Research, this fear hasn’t yet come to fruition. University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins has tracked COVID-19 trends around the nation and said she hasn’t found a link between surges in cases and the return of college football. 

“I’m not seeing a lot of COVID ramifications,” Prins said in a UF press release. “When we see these full stadiums, it makes people feel nervous because we’ve been avoiding crowds for such a long time. But some of these outdoor events really are not the superspreader events that people have worried they’re going to be.” 

She notes that high vaccination rates, warmer temperatures and primarily outdoor settings have all contributed to college football becoming a generally safe pastime once again. 

But what each person deems as “safe” varies vastly. It seems there’s no way to win. You can either stay at home indefinitely, or willingly take the risk of contracting COVID-19 by attending what may — but probably won’t — pan out to be a superspreader event. 

Our editorial board wrote last week about the pleasant surprise of not yet moving back to virtual classes. College football is back. Lines at Mario’s are around the block. It seems nature is healing. And yet, to safely and confidently immerse ourselves back into society, we need a few things — vaccines, seasonal masking and blissful ignorance. 

I was one of those people who “did everything right” during the height of the pandemic. Last year, my roommate and I spent most weekends making roasts and watching HGTV, rather than partying. When I finally got my vaccine at the end of April, I thought I had finally outlasted the virus and could return to “life as normal” — that is, until the Delta variant showed up. 

By now, the general consensus among experts is that this pandemic will turn endemic — meaning that while COVID-19 may not always remain the significant threat to public health it is now, it will likely always be around us, much like the flu. 

This means that if you were hoping to simply wait out the pandemic until COVID-19 was eradicated, you’ll be waiting for a while. 

As the once “unprecedented” pandemic now becomes a normalized aspect of our every interaction, waiting for a perfectly safe environment is simply no longer an option. Yet, risks can be significantly curbed. 

Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office reported that more than 90% of students, faculty and staff are vaccinated as of Oct. 19 — a percentage they deem “very encouraging.” Pennsylvania has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Allegheny County’s vaccination rate is 1.7% higher than Pennsylvania, contributing to 21.7% less deaths per 100,000 residents than the state’s average. 

Overall, most Pitt community members exist in very vaccinated spaces on the local, county and state levels, giving us some of the best protection against COVID-19 currently available. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that schools without mask requirements statistically have more outbreaks of COVID-19 than those with mandates. Maskless schools in Arizona were 3.5 times more likely to face an outbreak. The CDC recommends that colleges and universities take this to heart and require masks in the classroom. 

We’re lucky that Pitt requires — and enforces — mask wearing inside campus buildings. Still, vaccines and masks can only go so far. Even with Pitt’s indoor mask mandate and high vaccination rate, we saw an average 4.1 positive student tests and 1.9 positive faculty and staff tests per day last week. 

This means in order to safely enjoy the year, perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle is blissful ignorance. Not the kind that keeps some from getting vaccinated, or masking up or taking COVID-19 seriously, but the kind that allows us to compartmentalize risk when we know we’ve taken every precaution we can. 

As COVID-19 slowly works its way toward becoming endemic, learning to live with risk while protecting yourself is an intricate yet important dance to learn. I’m not saying to throw caution to the wind. But maybe, just maybe, you can go watch Pitt beat Miami on Saturday. 

Julia writes mostly about socio-political issues. Write to Julia at [email protected]

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