Endemic or Pandemic: A look at future mandates


Jemima Malote

COVID-19 cases during the spring 2022 semester have surpassed those of previous semesters.

Jemima Malote, [email protected], Editor-in-Chief

UNC Asheville looks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as the omicron variant spreads. 

As new rules and regulations appear, one faculty member questioned the mandates and vaccination requirements imposed by the university. 

In an email titled “A call for respect and compassion for all,” to the academic form on Jan. 6, Chair and Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Christopher Hennon wrote about his plans to no longer comply with UNCA’s mask mandate, vaccination status reporting or mandated testing. 

“I will not be wearing a mask when I work this semester. I will not submit my vaccine card to the institution nor subject myself to mandated testing,” he wrote in the email. 

Further in the email, Hennon wrote despite receiving an initial two-dose COVID-19 vaccination, he now does not feel vaccinations and boosters protect from spread of the virus and its variants.

“When the vaccines became available several months ago, I, like many of you, was excited at the news of their effectiveness and received my two shots. I also volunteered many hours at the Reuter Center to help others get theirs. Since that time, it has become clear to me that the vaccines and boosters do not prevent infection and spread of subsequent COVID variants,” he wrote. 

After further consideration and speaking with the administration, Hennon decided to revise his initial plan, but only compromising on wearing a mask while teaching as he will not subject himself to further testing.  

“I came to the conclusion that not wearing one would ultimately be too divisive and distracting from the task of bringing us all together,” he said. 

This is not the first time Hennon spoke against the vaccination and testing mandate, as when policies were first imposed in August, Hennon sent an email to the academic forum list expressing his concerns.  

“There was some limited debate at the time, but the amount of fear and anxiety that was and remains pervasive in the community made it difficult for others to even consider what I was arguing,” he said. 

Hennon opposed UNCA’s requirements on submitting proof of vaccination and mandatory testing for those that did not.

“The UNCA policy effectively divided the community into ‘vaccinated’ and ‘unvaccinated’ groups. By requiring additional testing for unvaccinated people, UNCA implemented a form of discrimination,” he said. 

As UNCA begins its third week of classes, the schools COVID-19 case count surpassed last semester’s 74 cases, reaching 91 cases. The cumulative semester count started on Jan. 1. And has already reached 124% of the cumulative cases count for the fall 2021 semester. With an increase of .53 percentage points compared to last semester, the cases only continue to grow.

Michael Farkas, a UNCA student studying economics and accounting, said the higher transmission rate of omicron contributes to the rise but the data also reflects UNCA’s protocols.

“During the fall we were combating the delta variant, which was less contagious,” he said.

Farkas said we must not forget that we are in the midst of a pandemic.

“I have no qualms with the school asking for vaccination status of its students or faculty. Prior to  official enrollment into UNCA, one must transmit a copy of their vaccination status,” he said. “This is merely something else the school is asking us to do to ensure the safety of everyone while they are on campus.” 

Although he does not disagree with existing regulations, Farkas said UNCA should be flexible and consider new information.  

“As times change so should the policy to meet the demands of this health crisis,” he said.  

Farkas said he considers COVID-19 an endemic due to policy makers’ lack of substantial legislation or protocols and people’s disregard of policies.  

“The representation of this disease has changed from a plague to an inconvenience in the media and that has only furthered peoples noncompliance,” he said.  

While UNCA continues to monitor cases and adapt its guidelines, Farkas said with time protocols will eventually be similar to those in the summer with masks being optional. 

“There will be a new normal where masks are optional because at one point they were, 

They revised guidance and I think that’s where we’re headed in the future,” he said. 

Despite protocols and rules on campus to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Farkas said it is ultimately the choice of a faculty member to follow the guidelines. 

“I would feel uncomfortable and off-put depending on the situation, and since I have no control of others or their actions, I do everything I can to ensure my personal safety,” he said. 

Through sharing his beliefs, Hennon said he hopes the community escapes the grip of fear of COVID-19.

“Everybody wants this thing to be over with and I really just want us to come together on this and not look at unvaccinated individuals any differently than any other person,” he said. 

Hennon said he hopes his email helps start an open discussion around the future of COVID-19 policies.

“There’s not enough critical thinking and discussion going on with this issue. The university is just saying ‘Here’s what you’re going to do.’ There is no, ‘What do you guys think? What are the issues here? Where’s the evidence?’” he said.   

Sarah Broberg, special assistant to the chancellor for communication and marketing, said guidelines, protocols and community expectations all align with UNC system guidance, CDC recommendations, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and other local health departments.    

“We will supportively and personally address any issues that arise with regard to our protocols and guidelines related to our University expectations, as well as Buncombe County and Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) requirements. As an inclusive and compassionate community, our mutual respect and care for one another supports the health and safety of all of us. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we work closely with everyone to abide by our guidelines and protocols,” she said via email.