Courage, it is said, is simply doing what needs to be done. Considering the pandemic, the response of Louisiana State University is in stark contrast to that of West Virginia University.
Each school prides itself as the flagship university of its state; in each state, football is really important. Meanwhile, both states have struggled to overcome the pandemic. As William Tate IV, president of LSU said recently, “As an epidemiologist, I know that vaccination is the [only] way out of this pandemic.”
On Aug. 10, LSU announced that there’d be no restrictions to attend football games. Two weeks later, it reversed course: Admission would be granted only to those who presented either proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot or a 72-hour negative test. (Also setting this standard are Tulane, Oregon, Oregon State, Syracuse and a few others.) And, for LSU, it went past football. The day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine, the university announced that students who didn’t provide proof of vaccination (at least a first dose of the two-dose vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine) by Sept. 10, or a qualifying medical exemption, would be “unenrolled” — kicked out.
It’s especially noteworthy that LSU’s game attendance requirements were supported by its president, by Louisiana’s governor, LSU’s Board of Supervisors, its athletic foundation and its athletic director.
So, where is our university president? Our governor? The WVU Board of Governors? The athletic director? Are they going to sit on their hands while the virus rages through our state?
I, and others, have written to the athletic department and to President Gordon Gee at WVU. The responses have been disheartening and timid: WVU is “monitoring this issue” and “highly encourages” vaccines — without specifying how. (LSU offers free vaccines on game day, and then admission to the game.) WVU requires nothing of its fans: They can attend home games, all potential superspreader events, without proof of vaccination or a negative test. Tens of thousands of spectators can then fan out across our state, potentially taking home to their families, their children and their communities more than a game program as a souvenir.
Meanwhile, Gee fretted about what to do “when there was a lack of a broad consensus on this issue.” But there is consensus in the scientific community on how to stop this pandemic: Get vaccinated. As Gov. Jim Justice said, “The only way we have on this planet to get out of this is to get vaccinated.” Gee’s other “consensus” is nothing more than people’s opinions, much derived, it seems, from social media and not from scientists with lifetimes of study of immunology, virology, epidemiology or medicine.
West Virginia is currently one of the most-diseased states, so it’s incumbent on WVU and Gee to follow LSU’s example. People who refuse vaccination endanger the lives of themselves and others. When they become ill with COVID-19, they deprive hospital patients with other medical needs of timely treatment by taking up limited and stressed health care resources.
We must not reward them. Fans who behave responsibly can attend games. Others might rethink the consequences of their choices and their shared responsibility to our country, to their communities back home and to their own families.
And doesn’t West Virginia have some responsibility to the rest of the country? Our COVID-19 numbers are dismal. We are, again, No. 1 in the country in rate of infection, while tied for last in the rate of full vaccination. In the percentage of residents who’ve received one shot, ages 18-64, we’re 50th in the country. Dead last. Our ICUs and patients on ventilators are at an all-time high, with beds and equipment taken up by patients who refused to take personal responsibility and get vaccinated.
The difference in the response to the COVID-19 crisis between LSU and WVU comes down to three things: courage, leadership and responsibility. One school protects its fans, its citizens, its health care workers and its non-COVID patients; the other does not.
How much worse will it have to get before WVU and Gee finally take responsible action?
West Virginia doesn’t need more bad publicity. WVU’s lack of a game admission policy sends a terrible signal to the corporate community, which will view West Virginia as a regressive state that can’t — or won’t — follow simple guidelines to protect its citizens. Why would a corporation consider moving its employees to a state that has lax public safety policies?
The lack of a courageous response by WVU is painfully evident on game days: TV viewers will see, overlooking Mountaineer Field, Ruby Memorial Hospital, which is reported to be swamped and out of beds. This symbolizes an ultimate irony: Those who don’t trust the science of this vaccine will seek medical treatment — which is based on science.
WVU, Gee and the Board of Governors need to step up and follow LSU’s example. If WVU claims to be a flagship institution, it should act like one. Seize this moment of crisis. Have the courage to do what needs to be done, for the sake of the public health and safety of all West Virginians.