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It’s Madness What Is Happening to College Kids


This is a post about the absolutely insane, crushing restrictions being imposed on young, healthy vaccinated (often booster and often naturally immune) people by institutions of knowledge. In order to prove my thesis that these policies are misguided, let me start with some basics.

When it comes to COVID19, there are only 3 things any of us can do:

  1. We can lower the risk of bad outcomes when we encounter the virus. 
  2. We can delay the time to meet the virus
  3. We can engage in theater which does not delay the time to meet the virus 

What goes in these buckets? 

Category 1 (risk reduction) is easy. You can’t modify your age, a huge risk favor, but you can modify your vaccination status, and you can modify your weight and general health. 

Category 2 (delay time to virus) is harder. We don’t have many well done studies, but theoretically if you sealed yourself in a bunker and ate canned food, you would do this. Wearing a snug n95 might also delay the time to meeting the virus. The challenge with these interventions is they are not sustainable by most people, and may lead to fatigue or backsliding, and thus the effect is transient. 

Delaying serves two purposes: 

  1. For the individual, it makes sense if, by delaying, you can do something for category 1 that you cannot do today. If you are waiting for your vaccine, for instance, by all means delay.
  2. For the community it makes sense, if, by some delaying, the pandemic trajectory is bent and hospitals are less likely to be overwhelmed. 

Delaying also has a downside. It may hurt your mental health, particularly when you do it effectively. If you need evidence of this damage: please see twitter.

Category 3 (useless, virtue signaling theater) is the most common. Wearing your mask when you enter a restaurant and walk to your table, but not when you sit there for two hours laughing and drinking is one example. The fact this policy exists reflects serious impairment in thinking and total failure of policy makers. 

Making a 2-4 year old wear a cloth mask in day care (which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against the advice of the World Health Organization), but, of course, kids take the cloth mask off to nap next to each other for 4 hours in the same room! Theater.

Closing beaches and other outdoor activities. Wearing a mask outside. The list goes on and on, and most things we did fit in this category. On a side note:  Here we review all data on masking. 

Enter young, healthy college kids.

The vast majority are either double vaxxed or have natural immunity or both, and some are also boosted. They are young (lucky them!), and the majority are healthy. What more can such students do for Category 1? Nothing. 

What about category 2? It appears that many universities are making college kids wear masks, restricting their movement, banning gatherings etc. Here is just one example of how extreme they are:

These severe restrictions might actually delay the time till college kids meet the virus! But it does so with a huge disruption to their lives. All the wonderful things of being young require being very close to other people. Many simply cannot occur with a mask on.

Will these restrictions benefit the college kids? Absolutely not. When they eventually meet the virus— and they will— on vacation or next semester— they will just be a little older, but have similar great chances of doing well. 

Will the restrictions benefit society? Doubtful. After all, everyone not on a college campus is not following any of these ridiculous rules, and the pandemic trajectory will be dictated by those (aka 99.9% ) of places. 

It will likely not even to protect the faculty and staff on campus, who will largely face risks when they leave work and go home and on vacation, and again, if these folks have already optimized Category 1, delay makes little sense.

Will it harm the college kids? Absolutely, it will. Their mental health will surely suffer from this isolation. It has already. I will say again: all of the joys of youth require being close to other people.

What is the net balance? The net balance is these policies are catastrophically detrimental to them. Moreover, there is no countervailing benefit to staff or society to justify the huge imposition. It is morally and scientifically bankrupt.

Truly, I can’t even understand how anyone thinks these policies are justified. I am also surprised college students have accepted them with scant protest. I can only surmise that many have been mislead into thinking this sacrifice serves a broader interest (i.e. believe they are being altruistic), or that the incentives on their lives and career for conformity are so great they are afraid to speak up. 

I suspect the strong link between restrictions and political party may also affect them. After all, the youth most strongly leans left (full disclosure: as do i!), and thus adheres to the identity badges of the left (but in my case, sadly, I spent too many years studying & publishing on scientific evidence to turn my brain off).

In short, draconian restrictions on vaccinated young people or those with natural immunity living in tiny pockets of college campus makes no sense, and is a policy that contributes to a harm in societal well-being. The policy is unethical and illogical.

To young people: I am personally sorry that those of us who recognized the futility and harm of these policies could not have done more to shield you from the anxieties and risk aversion of the irrational.

Republished from the author’s Substack.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Vinay Prasad

    Vinay Prasad MD MPH is a hematologist-oncologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco. He runs the VKPrasad lab at UCSF, which studies cancer drugs, health policy, clinical trials and better decision making. He is author of over 300 academic articles, and the books Ending Medical Reversal (2015), and Malignant (2020).

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