Opinion | The UI needs to incentivize COVID-19 safety measures

Even with all the restrictions the UI faces with COVID-19 policies, we need to focus on incentivizing vaccines and booster shots.


Grace Smith

Pins reading “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine” are seen at the checkout tables in the Iowa Memorial Union at the University of Iowa on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Yassie Buchanan, Opinions Columnist

As students return to classes, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. To keep students, employees, and the community safe, the University of Iowa needs to prioritize incentivizing vaccines and safety measures.

During the pandemic, Iowa’s government has consistently failed to take action to stop the spread of the virus. State lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds attempted to ban mask mandates in schools, but it was blocked by a judge. The state Legislature has banned government agencies and businesses from requiring vaccines as a condition of service. These restrictions have limited the amount of action the state Board of Regents can take.

Although the university is encouraging masking and vaccines like last semester, other schools have put more measures into place to slow the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus. These measures include adaptations such as starting the first two weeks of classes online.

The UI’s Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, or COGS, has called for the UI to implement more COVID mitigations. COGS pointed out on its social media accounts that UI has the least number of policies in place to combat COVID-19 in the Big Ten. At minimum, every other school has implemented mask mandates.

So far, the UI has announced plans to hand out free test kits and upgrade the masks supplied in buildings. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is also offered at Student Health.

Although the Regents have made it difficult to take precautions, mitigating the spread of the virus should still be a priority for the UI by working to incentivize vaccines, masking, and creating a consistent COVID-19 absence policy.

The daily average of COVID-19 cases in Iowa has already surpassed the bleak record set in November of 2020. As of Jan. 16, the daily average for new cases is 5,344, and Johnson County has the third-highest daily average for COVID-19 cases in the state. Things could worsen, as the omicron-fueled wave is predicted to peak in Iowa by the end of February.

Earlier in the month, hospitals were already overwhelmed by cases with ICUs full of mostly unvaccinated Iowans. The best protection we have against the virus is getting the vaccine and booster shots, and the UI needs to do a better job incentivizing these.

About a quarter of the state’s population has received a booster shot. At this point in the pandemic, getting a booster after six months of being fully vaccinated is crucial in maximizing your protection against the virus.

Experts have been recommending people get their booster shot after six months of initially being fully vaccinated. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Ragon Institute, MIT, and Harvard found people who receive a booster shot have a greater ability to neutralize the omicron variant.

One way the UI could work toward this is by looking into how effective handing out Downtown Iowa City gift cards to those who showed their vaccine card at the beginning of the fall semester. A similar initiative could possibly be reinstated.

Purdue University incentivized students to get vaccinated by entering vaccinated students into a drawing for a year of in-state tuition. Other schools have created similar incentive programs.

There should also be consistent policies and procedures for sick students and staff. As of right now, the Office of the Registrar has no definitive absence policy for COVID-19. You are expected to self-report if you test positive. If you’re experiencing symptoms, then you’re directed to isolate and get tested.

The UI should make it clear students do not need to worry about unexcused absences when trying to look out for their own health and the health of others.

The Board of Regents has stated they want students to have as normal of a campus experience as possible. We should not be sacrificing safety for normalcy.

We are all tired of cycling through waves of high and low COVID-19 transmission. While the UI has very few COVID-19 mitigations in place compared to other schools, the least it can do is incentive vaccines to help increase vaccination rates on campus and protect the community.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.