A Response to “The Harm of Excessive Safety”: We’re Not Talking About Peanuts
By Madison Lazenby ‘23
On April 17th, the Enquiry published their most recent issue with a cover article that, in simplest terms, advocates for the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines due to how many Hamilton students simply do not follow the guidelines in the first place. Though I understand the writer’s—John Madigan—frustrations with the portion of the student body who do not follow the guidelines, I am disappointed by his recommendation to completely forgo the guidelines, especially since he seems to have arrived at that conclusion through several misunderstandings that are inherently ablest. The compromise that Madigan arrives at is that individuals “who suspect they are high risk can take extra precautions” while individuals who do not should be allowed to live a perfectly normal life on the Hill for the remainder of the semester. This belief is misguided, misinformed, and ultimately a danger to many on campus for many reasons. I am incredibly frustrated by the Enquiry’s decision to publish such a piece in the first place.
Madigan justifies his argument by stating that we should adopt a model similar to how we take care of people with peanut allergies: labeling food in the dining halls and expecting students to carry their Epipens with them at all times. As someone who has such a “deadly”—the exact word, actually, is anaphylactic—allergy to peanuts and treenuts*, I can tell you that this analogy does not apply to how COVID-19 is spread. I never would have thought that I would have to explain to someone at Hamilton that eating is not the same thing as breathing, but here is a more accurate analogy: If we were to suppose that I could get an allergic reaction to peanuts the same way that COVID-19 is spread, it would be like shoving peanuts down my throat whenever I open my mouth.
Though I do not know if Madigan himself has such an allergy, he also fails to understand and account for the fact that simply carrying an Epipen is not enough. While I do carry around my Auvi-Q (read more about why Mylan is a terrible company for price hiking the Epipen to such an extent that the life-saving drug became entirely unaffordable to many here), there is no way that if I had an allergic reaction that I would have the wherewithal to administer the shot to myself. For this reason, I make a point to teach the people around me how to use it. Every roommate that I have had, a few people in every dorm I have lived in, most of my friends at home, my childhood babysitters, my camp counselors, my parents and brother, and more all know how to save my life in an emergency. Additionally, I trust these people to not feed me peanuts or to not sit too close to me if they are eating peanuts themselves since I can get nauseated just from the smell. Why? Because these people care about my well-being and will take care to not endanger my life. Madigan’s suggestion that able-bodied and un-immunocompromised people forgo COVID-19 guidelines while those who are high risk have to follow them to a T does not promote this same mindset.
This mindset in part seems to stem from Madigan’s assumption that enough people have been vaccinated, as he also writes, “Professors and high-risk individuals have now been vaccinated.” While Hamilton has been doing a great job of getting employees vaccinated and NY state has now made every student at Hamilton eligible for the vaccine, I am troubled by Madigan’s assertion for two reasons. The first reason is that I simply would like to know what source he is using to determine that all immunocompromised people at Hamilton have been vaccinated, and the second is that only framing this argument around Hamilton’s campus further upholds the belief that Hamilton operates in a COVID-safe bubble. If Madigan’s assertion that students are not following COVID-19 guidelines is true—meaning that students are going further off-campus than we are currently allowed—this bubble does not exist. This is to say that Madigan believes that we are safe even though students are not acting safe, which, to me at least, does not add up. Additionally, it has been widely reported that while vaccine rollout has increased under the Biden administration, the highest levels of vaccinations are happening in white, affluent areas. However, Black and Brown communities, where the virus has already had the worst impact, are not getting vaccinated at the same rate that white communities are. When also considering the US’s long history of medical racism and simply how viral COVID-19 is, this should be incredibly concerning. To have Hamilton release students from all COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions because enough of our majority white and able-bodied students are vaccinated is to directly put the unvaccinated people of the Mohawk Valley in danger of further outbreaks.
Ultimately, what concerns me most about Madigan’s article is that he all but says that the danger of COVID-19 does not exist. On many occasions, he states that the COVID-19 regulations “do little or no good” and that the anxiety experienced by students around following the rules “is not worth the gain.” Though Madigan is absolutely right to note the levels of anxiety around staying safe from the virus are high on campus, I do not think he is right in saying that these rules are without gain. I can think of one gain immediately: not contracting COVID-19. And here’s another one: not spreading COVID-19 to the people you live, study, and work with. What Madigan fails to realize is that preventing the spread of COVID-19 is entirely dependent on each and every one of us following these rules so that even if we do not contract it ourselves, we will not pass it along to someone else who may have a harder time dealing with it than many others.
Additionally, it needs to be noted that deeming someone as “high-risk” is not enough to know how they will react to having the virus. To once again be very personal, my own father has been very careful about social distancing during the entire pandemic, but he contracted the virus after my mother did at work. Even though he was not necessarily a high-risk patient, he has been to the hospital twice for related symptoms since October. This is not something that I would wish on anyone, either as a patient or as a child watching their parent go through this hundreds of miles away at home. In other cases, there have been people who were considered perfectly healthy who have died from the virus. The virus is not a danger only to the elderly or the immunocompromised like we have led ourselves to believe and to assign protections to these people as solely their responsibility is to show how little you care about these people and how little you understand how this virus works. To return to the peanut analogy, to not take the time to learn how to use an Epipen or Auvi-Q when someone you claim to care about needs you to know how—or to feed them peanuts at every time you see them—is to show how little you care about this person and how little you understand their allergy.
John Madigan is right to be concerned about students not following the COVID-19 guidelines that Hamilton has set down for us, but his answer is misguided by a complete lack of understanding of how the virus works. I am incredibly frustrated that the Enquiry would publish such an article that is clearly so thoroughly unresearched and advocates for the loosening of restrictions for many while the few have to live with extreme precaution. To promote the idea that disabled and immunocompromised students should have to take care of themselves alone against a viral disease is inherently ablest and should not—cannot—be the mindset that we have moving through the rest of this semester.
We have a responsibility as a campus community to keep each other safe and happy. We do not need to eliminate guidelines, we need to follow the existing ones in order to relieve our constant anxiety of an outbreak. This article promotes the opposite by excusing reckless behavior and seeking to place the burden of the Coronavirus on the few who are already most vulnerable. This article is ultimately a danger to the health of the campus and should not have been published.
*For means of positionality, though I have an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, I should note that I do not consider myself disabled or immunocompromised. However, I do not believe that this should discredit my reading of Madigan’s article as problematic and ablest.