March 14, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Ignoring Cornell’s COVID Critics is Unforgivable

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In the article “Three Years Since COVID-19 Lockdown, Cornellians Reflect on Pandemic,” authors Aimée Eicher and Sofia Rubinson interviewed several students and a professor regarding their COVID-19 experience at Cornell. The Cornellians they selected had nothing but fawning praise for Cornell’s pandemic policies, and Eicher and Rubinson failed to include a single criticism of Cornell’s restrictions. 

Worse, one student, Ceci Rodriguez ’26, made demonstrably false assertions in a ludicrous argument for reinstituting masking, but Eicher and Rubinson made no attempt to contextualize or disprove her claims. Considering how willingly the Cornell administration trampled students’ rights in the name of COVID-19 absolutism, The Sun has a responsibility to call out flimsy COVID-19 rationalizations. 

“If we’re required to wear [masks] at Cornell Health, ideally we should be required to wear them in every establishment,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying, “Your chances of getting COVID-19 in the building of Cornell Health [are] still the same chances of getting COVID-19 in any other building on campus…So why should [masking] not apply to all buildings on campus as well?”

Holding the rest of campus to the standard of Cornell Health would be ridiculous. First of all, Cornell’s continuance of the policy requiring masking in healthcare facilities is its own choice, and is more restrictive than advised by federal CDC recommendations, which were relaxed in September 2022. New York State actually ended its healthcare facility mask mandate over a month ago, on Feb. 12. 

Second, there are several good reasons to employ stricter masking requirements in health facilities than in other settings. In fact, healthcare facilities are famous for rigorously enforcing a sanitized, sterilized environment. It’s one of Cornell’s least disputable COVID-19 requirements.

Since healthcare facilities treat sick people, Cornell Health patients are more likely to be sick or have pre-existing conditions (like Rodriguez herself, as The Sun’s article notes), making them more susceptible to COVID-19 infection. Conversely, the sicknesses inducing patients to visit Cornell Health could very likely be COVID-19, a cold or influenza. Thus, the people who congregate at Cornell Health are both more likely to be vulnerable to COVID-19 and more likely to spread it than the average Cornell student. 

The Sun has a duty to point out the arguments against Cornell’s COVID-19 restrictions, even if its writers disagree with them. If it will not, it should at least interview those who would. Were they unable to find any students with grievances against Cornell’s COVID-19 restrictions?

Ignoring the critics is unforgivable. Cornell’s COVID-19 regime has no lack of victims: There was the class of 2020, who lost their commencement ceremony and senior spring semester. There were the students who were made to mask, test and isolate continuously for two years. And there were the students with religious objections or medical issues who were left in limbo for months while Cornell dithered with vaccine exemptions. Yet somehow, Eicher and Rubinson managed to interview only students who were appreciative and laudatory of Cornell’s actions.

If truly no one will provide criticism, I will. While the original measures were prudent, Cornell’s prolonged restrictions became ludicrous in their demands. As I have argued for years, many of Cornell’s restrictions were unnecessarily draconian, since the vast majority of Cornell students are young, fit and at low risk for COVID-19. The plight of the few who are at risk is regrettable, but it is no excuse to heap endless restrictions on everyone. As with all diseases, those at risk should take independent measures to reduce their exposure. 

Cornellians have sacrificed enough for COVID-19. We deserve far more than a complaisant, whitewashed account of the past three years. 

Cullen O’Hara ’23