“How many Aggies must die before Texas A&M University mandates vaccinations and masks for its students and faculty?” physics professor Peter McIntyre said this week at a virtual faculty senate meeting. School leaders, though, have said Abbott’s bans on state agencies requiring mask-wearing or vaccinations have left them with few options.
“The death of a student is always tragic,” Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks said at the faculty senate meeting. “COVID remains a problem on our campus. But let me assure you, we’re doing all we can within state guidelines to allow us to be given the opportunity to protect as many students, faculty and staff as possible.” Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Across Texas, university and college students and faculty members worried about returning to campus without school leaders being able to mandate masks or vaccines even as the Centers for Disease Control advised fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of the virus. In Texas, the number of infections and people hospitalized with the virus surged this summer as the school year approached. Several universities offered students prizes to entice them to get vaccinated. At Texas A&M, getting the vaccine came with the possibility of winning free tuition and fees.
All A&M faculty members, staff and students were required to be tested at least once in the three-week period that ended Saturday. According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were 1,498 positive coronavirus tests detected during the week that ended Saturday. That was a dramatic increase from the 774 people who tested positive two weeks earlier. Although Abbott has forbidden state universities from mandating masks or vaccines, Banks encouraged people to wear them during her remarks at the faculty senate meeting.
The Texas Tribune could not reach relatives of the student and is not naming the student. But after the 20-year-old student died and cases rose during the initial weeks of the fall semester, about 60 A&M students gathered Tuesday at Academic Plaza to protest for more mandatory COVID-19 precautions, chanting, “Wear your mask,” and “Mask mandates are a must, and A&M is unjust.”
“No more people should have to die because of COVID. No student should have to seriously consider if they are next,” Koite said. “We should never have to sacrifice immunocompromised, vulnerable Aggies who give their time and energy into making this community into what it is.” Noor Mohamed, a freshman engineering student who also attended Tuesday’s protest, feels the same way. Mohamed said she heard of students who tested positive for COVID-19 and still attended class, which worried her and spurred her to participate in the protest. Neo Koite, a junior studying wildlife and fisheries sciences, helped organize the protest. Koite said she has classes with almost 300 students and said only 20 of them typically wear masks.
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