Zoe Winter | Fourth Estate

Some students and staff are left with choosing between health and missing class or work


Three of GMU’s core values are diversity, equity, and inclusion. President Washington made it clear that promoting these ideals on George Mason’s campus is of great importance to him.

There are banners around campus proclaiming that GMU has been named the most diverse school in Virginia. But how can diversity, equity, and inclusion be honored when Washington and the other members of the administration have made a decision that renders roughly 20% of students unsafe and unwelcome on campus?

When I read the president’s email first announcing the mask mandate would be lifted, my stomach dropped. I thought: get rid of the mask mandate? But what about everyone who’s immunocompromised? What about everyone who goes home from campus every day to someone who is at high risk for severe illness from Covid-19? What will happen to me and all of my other friends who are immunocompromised if everyone around us is going maskless?

As of the most recent data, published in 2021 by the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 20% of all undergraduate students have a disability. According to the ADA, disabled persons include those with impaired immune system function, diabetes, asthma, and even PTSD and major depressive disorder. All of these conditions and more are included on the CDC’s list of conditions that put people at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

Based on this information, it’s safe to assume that about 20% of Mason’s 39,000 students are disabled and therefore at high risk for severe illness should they catch Covid-19, not to mention the many faculty and staff who may be disabled or go home every day to individuals with disabilities.

The CDC’s newest mask guidance is not intended to prevent people from getting sick. The basis for the policy is the presumption that hospitals are no longer overloaded and there are currently enough beds for people with severe illnesses.

However, just because someone who is immunocompromised can be treated at a hospital does not mean some individuals will not have long-term complications or pass away.

The CDC’s website states that someone with one or more of the medical conditions on their list is “more likely to: be hospitalized, need intensive care, require a ventilator to help them breathe, [or] die.” Is the university prepared to take legal and moral responsibility for any of those outcomes should an immunocompromised student get sick because of lax mask policies?

I am someone with asthma and an unknown number of other chronic illnesses. This means that I have no real way of knowing what might happen to me if I contract Covid-19. I am at risk already because of my asthma and, for all I know, my other chronic illnesses could mean I have no real immunity from Covid-19, despite being fully vaccinated and having received my booster shot.

Due to these illnesses, I am unable to determine the impact of covid on my body. In addition, many of my close friends and family are also at high risk, so living through the pandemic has been extremely stressful and scary.

I, and countless other GMU students, go through life every day dreading receiving news that someone close to us has tested positive because we don’t know what will happen to them if they get sick.

This is especially pertinent as the newest variant, BA.2, which is even more contagious than the Omicron variant, is spreading across the nation and around our area. In trying to move past Covid-19, even as a new variant is spreading, the university is abandoning its most vulnerable community members to either be excluded from communal spaces, or risk becoming severely ill.

The university has a moral imperative to protect its people – all of its people, including those who are disabled and/or immunocompromised. In not following this imperative, the university administration completely and unnecessarily abandons the value of accessible education that the university was founded upon, and dishonors the ideals that its current administration claims to value so highly.

Collin Cope / Fourth Estate