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Opinion: Boynton Health abdicates their mission by dropping COVID-19 safety measures

PhD candidate writes about dropping COVID-19 safety measures for on-campus medical centers.
Image by Sarah Mai

It is a dangerous decision for Boynton to drop mask mandates, end the COVID-19 testing program and limit telehealth appointments because it will further the spread of COVID-19 in a place where people trust they will be cared for. There are patients who may be medically vulnerable and people who are contagious and sick, all mingling together at Boynton Health.

Healthcare facilities (and even the CDC themselves!) have lifted mask mandates and ended up with COVID-19 outbreaks. This policy change makes it clear that the health and well-being of those in the University community and their families doesn’t matter to Boynton nor to the healthcare workers who decide to unmask.

This decision, made behind closed doors, perpetuates dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 and normalizes an ableist and eugenic ideology that asserts it is okay to sacrifice the lives of vulnerable and high-risk people. These healthcare induced infections will unnecessarily lead to the spread of serious illness and even death to vulnerable patients. Conveniently, Boynton has also ended PCR testing, leaving no accessible way to test for COVID-19 once exposed.

Students are no longer protected on campus in classrooms, offices and labs, and now are unprotected when they need healthcare. We expect healthcare workers to wash their hands before examinations, to wear gloves during surgery, to use sterile needles and tools. 

So why not masks in the midst of a global pandemic that moves through the air like smoke?

Years in the future, we will look back at these policies with the same disgust as the surgeries performed with bare, unwashed hands and dirty tools. Furthermore, the University of Minnesota  has workplace safety requirements for all types of potential hazards and health emergencies –– from exposure to toxic chemicals in labs to mandatory field safety trainings. Why not require masking for a level-3 biohazard like COVID-19?

I took care of my dad who was going through cancer treatment last year and the fear and anxiety we both felt about COVID-19 exposure when we went to the doctor for treatments was overwhelming. It is exhausting to navigate the complexities of medical care, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment –– let alone navigating this care when your doctors think your life, or the life of your loved ones, is disposable.

While my dad passed away from cancer complications last year and not from COVID-19, I can only imagine the pain and grief people feel whose loved ones suffer or die from entirely preventable healthcare-induced COVID-19 infections.

Everyone benefits from policies that center access and safety for the immunocompromised, the chronically ill, the disabled, the young children unable to be vaccinated and the elderly. University students have children, are caregivers to those who are high risk, are pregnant, are immunocompromised or are going through treatment themselves.  Even seemingly “mild” infections in young, healthy, vaccinated people can lead to serious and debilitating health issues. Vaccines are not as effective against the current COVID-19 variants and their protection wanes quickly over time.

It is irresponsible to have a policy that states that only if you are COVID-19 positive or sick that you should wear a mask. It is estimated that 40-60% of COVID-19 infections are spread asymptomatically, so the new policy won’t even protect people from the majority of transmission sources.

It’s also common for people to lie about their COVID-19 status and symptoms. Healthcare workers attend their shifts when COVID-19 positive. The only ethical standard is for healthcare workers to wear high-quality, well-fitting, N95 masks –– not ineffective, loose fitting surgical masks –– to protect themselves and their patients.

The World Health Organization recently stated that one in ten infections of COVID-19 leads to serious post-viral health conditions (known as “Long COVID-19” or PASC) that will leave millions of people unable to work or care for themselves. COVID-19 infections damage our immune systems, leaving us on a cycle of illness after illness every few weeks or months.

It can infect our brain tissue and cause memory loss in young people, similar to dementia. COVID-19 lingers in our bodies for months after seemingly mild infections and causes lethal blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. It is not comparable to a cold or flu and everyone should avoid reinfection.

Over six million people have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with over 1,000 people dying every week in 2023 alone (likely a vast undercount). Masks work to prevent needless illness and death, and, despite Boynton’s claim to provide the “highest quality of care” with “equity, inclusion and respect”, they seem to be more interested in succumbing to peer pressure and denial than the science behind COVID-19 spread and, consequently, the health and wellbeing of the University community.

Julia Brokaw is a 6th-year PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and was a primary caregiver for her dad when he went through cancer treatment last year. ‘COVID Aware Twin Cities’ contributed to the writing and editing of this piece (@COVIDAwareTC).

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  • Nah
    May 9, 2023 at 11:07 am

    This is a pretty good example of hysterical hypochondria.