Are we still in a pandemic? Here’s what Boise State students have to say

Masked and unmasked student sitting together at a table
Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

On March 7, 2022, Boise State University no longer required students to wear masks indoors while on campus. This day struck anxiety in some, and relief in others. 

Political affiliation was traditionally an indicator on how the pandemic is perceived, but one’s political party is no longer relevant on this matter.

In a 60 Minutes interview on Sept. 18, President Joe Biden said that we are no longer in a pandemic. One group believes that the pandemic is still strong and we should keep adhering to safety precautions, whereas the other group see the loosening rules as a sign that we are finally out of it, or at least can return to a feeling of normalcy.

Now that both federal and state governments have gestured toward an ease of COVID-19 restrictions, there is debate on whether the pandemic is in the past or if we are yet to turn the chapter on this virus.

After asking Boise State students through a non-scientific online survey, as well as in person inside Boise State’s Interactive Learning Center, the divide became clear. In the survey, 95 students were asked about their political leaning and their opinion on the state of the pandemic.

It is important to note that as far as political leaning goes, the survey was evenly split. 55% of people identified as independent, 22% identified with the Democratic Party, and 23% identified with the Republican Party.

According to the survey, only 30% of students believe that we are in a pandemic. Additionally, only half of the left-leaning students surveyed belong to this group of believers.

“No, we aren’t [in a pandemic],” said junior civil engineering major Joseph Heath. “The relative herd immunity and availability of a vaccine make it more endemic like the flu.”

Endemic, when referring to diseases, means that it holds a steady prevalence in the population rather than coming in surges. For example, the common cold is endemic while the Ebola virus is not.

Masked and unmasked student sitting together at a table
[A masked and unmasked student sit at a table in the Student Union Building.]
Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

Heath’s evaluation is somewhat correct. According to the CDC’s weekly account of new cases, infections have been relatively steady in the last year. However, they are not at a complete standstill, as there are still spikes in reported COVID cases. 

During the first week of September 2022, there were approximately 90,000 newly reported cases per day in the United States, which is about typical now. However, in January 2022, this average was well over 700,000 new cases per day. In fact, on Jan. 10, 2022, the United States had over 1.2 million new cases. 

According to John Hopkins Medicine, though the virus is becoming milder with time, COVID-19 causes more significant afflictions when compared to the influenza virus, including being 10 times as fatal and leaving lingering taste loss. 

“I acknowledge that we are technically probably in a pandemic,” Heath said. “But it just doesn’t feel like it. I just don’t care anymore.”

For those that no longer feel as though we are in a pandemic, the responses were remarkably similar.

“Yes, we are [in a pandemic], but nobody cares,” said Eric Platt, senior interdisciplinary studies major. “I had it about a month ago. It’s still around, but I still go to concerts and movies. It isn’t worth staying inside for anymore.”

The vast majority of students, at least according to those sampled, agree that technically we are in a pandemic, but after two and a half years of masking and quarantine, apathy has taken over.

Despite the lack of regard that many people seem to have for the pandemic, the World Health Organization and other experts still believe that the pandemic is very much active.

“Yes, we are still in a pandemic,” Dr. Carly Hyland, professor and postdoctoral researcher for Public Health and Population Science at Boise State, told The Arbiter in a phone call. “However, for most of us, the desire to go back to normal outweighs the risks.”

According to Dr. Hyland, wearing masks, while never being a bad idea, is now something of a judgment call rather than a universal rule. Since Boise State lifted its mask mandate, most students have moved on from masks and social distancing. However, not everyone has had the opportunity to stray away from COVID-19 safety recommendations.

“Some of us still have friends and family that are at risk for COVID,” Hyland said. “If you are traveling, or those you are dealing with are being cautious, be courteous.”

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