PRESS EDITORIAL: Legislators to college students: Take your chances with Covid

Tommy Thompson, who was elected to four terms as Republican governor of Wisconsin and now is president of the University of Wisconsin System, is a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who was a leader in the international effort to control the 2003 SARS pandemic, is credited with strengthening American’s preparedness for a bioterrorism attack by stockpiling vaccine and providing federal assistance to state and local pubic health infrastructure, led the nation’s response to anthrax attacks and worked with Dr. Anthony Fauci to develop the Bush administration’s plan to combat HIV-AIDS.

Steve Nass, a member of the leadership of the Wisconsin Legislature that didn’t lift a finger to help the state’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is a former payroll analyst.

Which of the two should be making decisions about protecting the health of students on UW campuses?

The answer is obvious but also wishful thinking.

Thompson and other UW System officials plan to require unvaccinated students to be tested weekly for Covid-19.

Nass, Republican state senator who is co-chair of the Legislature’s rules committee, plans to prevent the use of that sensible requirement intended to limit the spread of the virus on the crowded campuses by adopting a rule giving the Legislature the power to block virus-related regulations at UW schools.

It should be easy for everyone, even politicians playing to the anti-mask/anti-test/anti-vax crowd, to understand that the testing rule is needed as defense against new Covid outbreaks that could prevent the return of students to lecture halls, laboratories and classrooms for the in-person educations they have been deprived of for a year by the pandemic.

If Nass and his fellow members of the Legislature’s majority understand that, they’re not letting it get in the way of their obsession with the false notion that Covid restrictions are a threat to the freedoms of Americans.

Nass described college Covid rules as abuses of “the statutory and constitutional rights of citizens.” He accused UW chancellors of “moving quickly to take advantage of the delta variant hysteria to enact excessive Covid-19 mandates.”

Nass’ delta comment referred to the dangerous virus mutation called Delta that is refilling hospitals with seriously sick, younger Covid patients. His idea of “excessive” is ridiculous. His “hysteria” is a mystery.

Thompson’s response to the move to block the testing rule, on the other hand, was clear and sensible: “The biggest threat to in-person classes this fall would be actions that strip the UW system of the tools it has so successfully utilized to date to address outbreaks and reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

The testing rule would affect only about 20% of UW System students, as 80% of the UW enrollment is vaccinated. Thompson and the UW chancellors know that for campuses to return to something approaching normal that number must move closer to 100%, and the weekly testing requirement, besides identifying virus carriers, is meant to be an incentive to be vaccinated.

By any reasonable standard, political resistance to scientifically sound measures taken in the still unsuccessful effort to get control of the coronavirus is indefensible. Yet, a year and a half into the pandemic, it is so commonplace that it is expected whenever an anti-covid directive is announced. The obstruction of the UW Covid protocols by Nass and his committee is, sad to say, not the least bit surprising.

Even if there is a constituency that applauds such undermining of public health protections, is it too much to ask that these elected representatives find the character to forego the political gain, whether imagined or real, and act with decency and a sensitivity to the well-being of their fellow humans?

The latter group includes the college students whose health and opportunity to complete their education would be protected by the measures the legislators mean to kill.   

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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