Joan Merriam: Sierra College and COVID-19 — A timid response
I was very gratified last week with the state mandate that instructors, staff and students at “all schools” show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19.
But the moniker “all schools” leaves out one very important and large contingent: community colleges. Specifically for our area, Sierra College.
The chancellor of the state’s community college system has pronounced that their office does not have the authority to mandate vaccinations, since every district is independently administered. Nevertheless, that office issued a memo to all districts “urging” that they consider implementing a vaccine mandate.
Sierra College, however, has chosen to ignore that advice. Back in July when the Delta variant exploded into a nationwide threat, I wrote letters to individual Board of Trustees members as well as to the president of the college, urging the adoption of a vaccine mandate. I also submitted a letter for the board’s consideration at their Aug. 10 meeting, again respectfully urging the college to enforce a vaccine mandate similar to the one implemented for public schools.
That suggestion went totally unanswered by every entity I approached. Apparently the college feels that a mask mandate is enough.
It is not enough.
While all employees must now show proof of vaccination, students merely have to submit a health questionnaire attesting that they have not been in contact with someone who’s COVID-positive and are not ill themselves. No proof of vaccination required.
In 10 days I will be facing 28 students in a college classroom, many of whom are likely unvaccinated (we can infer that from the statewide statistics showing less than 7% of people in the 12-17 age group are vaccinated, and just 47% of those aged 18 to 29. Locally, barely 30% of those aged 0-29 are vaccinated).
In that classroom, all of us will be required to wear masks — but we know that the Delta variant is virulent enough that there have been breakthrough cases for people like myself who are fully vaccinated, even when we’re masked. A mask offers some protection, but simply reduces the chance of transmission of this variant. It can’t prevent that transmission.
As an instructor, I am putting myself in jeopardy by being in a roomful of individuals, probably only 30% of whom are fully vaccinated. In addition, I am placing any person with whom I come into contact, vaccinated or not, young or old, in equal jeopardy simply because I could be carrying the virus, thanks to my close proximity with unvaccinated students.
But the college is apparently unconcerned with this potential vulnerability. After all, it’s neither the president nor the Board of Trustees who will be in a classroom for three hours with students whose vaccination status is unknown.
It’s obvious to me that Sierra College’s refusal to mandate vaccination stems from a legal concern that someone, somewhere, could institute legal action against the college for infringing upon their “rights,” never mind that legal scholars maintain that such a lawsuit would be frivolous at best, and would likely be dismissed.
Never mind that many businesses, corporations, and other entities are mandating vaccination for their employees.
And never mind that the UC system, the state college system, and many community colleges throughout the state have decided to mandate vaccination or weekly testing. In our region, the Los Rios district took that step in July. Nationally, more than 680 public and private colleges across the U.S. are now mandating COVID-19 vaccination.
Sierra College is deaf to all that. In taking that position, it is also risking the health and lives of its staff, faculty and students.
Joan Merriam is a Communication Studies instructor at Sierra College’s Nevada County campus. She is also the author of our regular column, “Casey’s Corner,” and the new novel, “A Just Reckoning.”
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