ALESTLE VIEW: Precautions only work if they are enforced — for everybody

Via UnSplash.

At the beginning of the semester, we published a staff editorial urging each individual on campus to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, not everybody seems to have gotten the memo. 

We’ve been discouraged recently. We have been running into campus employees who are either not wearing their masks correctly or not wearing them at all, instead substituting a mask with a clear face shield. We understand this can be a necessary accommodation for some. However, when we saw a class instructor wearing a face shield upside down, it became clear SIUE is not providing necessary discipline or training regarding pandemic safety. 

While on the topic of clear face shields, it’s important to mention the CDC says a face shield is not an alternative to a multi-layered mask. 

“Face shields are not as effective at protecting you or the people around you from respiratory droplets,” the CDC’s website said. Face shields have large gaps below and alongside the face, where your respiratory droplets may escape and reach others around you and will not protect you from respiratory droplets from others.”  

The CDC could not have made it any clearer: the layer of plastic on a face shield is not interchangeable with a good face mask. Yet, SIUE’s COVID-19 Policies and Procedures webpage sure makes it seem like they are; the website constantly refers to the need for “face masks OR face shields.” If following the CDC’s advice, university policy should state that clear face shields should only be used by those granted that particular accommodation, or in conjunction with a face mask. 

Masks should be worn covering one’s nose and mouth unless actively eating or drinking, and when social distancing is not possible. By this point, we are having a hard time believing this is not common sense, especially among university employees. When in cafeteria lines, we never hear employees telling patrons to social distance. We see employees walking up and down hallways with their masks only covering their mouths. As mentioned before, our staff has even seen faculty wearing face shields upside down, like a shirt collar, with no actual face covering. 

At the same time, some of our staffers have been told they must wear a mask in a study room, even though they were the only person occupying the space. In the library, one of our staffers was told they could not sit next to their friend, even though they were both properly masked and  needed to see the computer screen to work on a project. Which is fair enough; a six-foot distance was not maintained there, and honestly, we are glad a library employee was doing their job and enforcing the rules. In the study room situation, one could argue that over six feet and four walls separated the student from any other individual. Yet, we could see how one may consider study rooms as “related academic areas” which SIUE’s policy clearly states face coverings need to be worn in. 

Clearly, enforcing the rules was not a problem in those situations. In both these situations, students were the ones being asked to comply with policy. This is what should happen: pandemic-related precautions should not be taken lightly. We are not arguing with this but rather asking administration and those who employ university employees: If it was so easy to enforce the rules when students were breaking them, then why do we see university employees not following protocol on a daily basis? 

In the case of a global pandemic, fair implementation of policy goes beyond some being treated differently than others. Not enforcing policy to the fullest extent — or enforcing policy that is not strict enough, in the case of face shields — is a matter of life or death. It’s time for administration and all others who supervise campus employees to step up and hold their employees accountable. It’s time for the policymakers to rethink problematic policies, abide by the CDC’s advice in full and if it’s a case where one must get an accommodation to wear a clear face shield, be more specific in the policies’ wording. 

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