Elise Wennberg– Staff Writer
On Sept. 14, Dordt University President Erik Hoekstra announced in a video release a “very low” number of COVID-19 cases on campus—”less than ten.” If on-campus transmission of the virus continued at its current rate, the latest installment of the semi-weekly COVID-19 updates from the university was “probably the last,” according to Hoekstra.
“We are doing well with what we know,” Robert Taylor, dean of students, said. “We can assume that there are some asymptomatic people and people who aren’t coming forward, but it’s manageable.”
The university does not intend to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, nor will it mandate mask wearing, given the current situation on campus, according to Taylor.
“When you look at the last eighteen months, absolutes are really hard,” Taylor said. “We are going to continue to stay close to our health partners and what they are advising.”
In Sioux County, COVID-19 numbers are rising. The county reported its first death since April 30 on Sept. 15. Its seven-day averages for cases have been on the incline since August, with the most the recent data (Sept. 15) reporting a seven-day average of eight. Still, the vaccination rate of Sioux County sits at 36 percent.
“We don’t really want to be the first 20% to do anything and we don’t want to be the last 20% because we know our constituency is spread out across the board on all of these things.”
In its Sept. 10 issue, The Diamond reported a 46 percent vaccination rate of Dordt’s student body. Also on Sept. 10, the university hosted a free vaccine clinic in the DeWitt Gymnasium. One student received a vaccination.
A variation of responses to Dordt’s vaccination status can be heard from students and staff.
“I had low expectations for Dordt,” said Kara Jasper, a senior. “I was actually a bit surprised that the percentage rate was that high.”
For the community development and theology major, receiving the vaccine is an act of Christian love born out of the work of scientists, researchers, and public health officials. Though Jasper acknowledges the concerns of vaccine skeptics, she does not want others to dismiss the life-saving potential of the shot.
Like Jasper, Walker Cosgrove, professor of history, did not set high expectations for the student body’s vaccination rate.
“I assumed it would be low given the overall attitude towards COVID in this area,” Cosgrove said. “It’s disappointing that this one issue has become so political that we are not listening to or trusting science.”
In a March poll by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals ranked highest among religious people refusing vaccination. These two demographics fit Sioux County’s bill. The fourth-least vaccinated county in Iowa is 96 percent white with a prominent Christian reformed tradition.
“I am not sure whether it is a lack of trust in the broad array of health care institutions, an unfortunate inability to separate speculation, fearmongering, conspiracy theories, and anecdote from evidence-supported practices, a general lack of concern about the potential impacts of COVID for themselves and others, or pure belligerence,” said Jeff Ploegstra, professor of biology.
Ploegstra is “generally glad” his employer did not mandate the vaccine but is “disturbed” by the 46 percent vaccination rate among students.
For those concerned about the effects of the vaccine, Ploegstra mentioned the safeness of the injection(s), explaining that the mRNA vaccine mimics the gene-altering effect of the coronavirus on a lesser, safer scale.
“If people are concerned that the vaccine is gene therapy, they should spend their lives in a plastic bubble,” said Ploegstra. “
“In some cases, I am sure that they themselves, a family member or friend may have had an adverse experience with vaccines or have a unique health condition that has created hesitancy- I understand that. I would expect that kind of decision making to have a minimal impact in our rates overall.”
[COVID-19] is far more invasive than what the vaccine does.”
When considering Dordt University’s role in relation to the pandemic, Robbin Eppinga, professor of biology, looks to the university mission statement:
“If Dordt is really going to equip students, alumni, and the broader community to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life, and if this pandemic is a primary aspect of contemporary life that needs renewal, then it appears that there is an opportunity here for Dordt to be more intentional and reformational in how we equip our students, alumni, and the broader community.”