COVID Bullying at West Point?
Vaccination is voluntary but refusal is not without consequence.
Via memeorandum, I came across a rather overwrought story at the New York Post headlined “Unvaccinated West Point cadets getting bullied and punished, families say.” It, in turn, seems to have been based largely on a Fox News story, “Unvaccinated West Point cadets face growing and severe retaliation, sources say.” Despite the suspect nature of the sources, the basic story rings true but lacks context.
From the Fox report:
The push for coronavirus vaccinations at the U.S. Military Academy began once the first shots became available back in January – but even as the inoculation rate rises and deaths and new cases both fall, the families of unvaccinated cadets say they are facing increasing pressure, coercion, and even threats to get the jab.
West Point does not have a vaccine mandate, nor does the military as a whole.
Still, there are only about three dozen unvaccinated cadets at West Point, which accommodates more than 4,500 students.
The unvaccinated few, many of whom say they have gained natural immunity from catching the virus earlier, face stricter quarantines and other restrictions now than at the height of the pandemic, according to multiple sources. The new limits include a seven-day quarantine for unvaccinated cadets in the break before summer training. That requirement took a full week away from their time off.
“It’s like solitary confinement – for a disease we don’t have,” said one cadet, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
From my own experience working in professional military education, I can attest that a seven-day quarantine is not stricter than at the height of the pandemic. “Restriction on Movement” (ROM) periods of 14-21 days were common for those who traveled from overseas or from high-risk localities. That said, West Point and most other installations had removed this requirement as of late December (although, because we have so many international students, we opted to go remote in the post-holiday break electives period to limit cross-exposure).
And, of course, if you’re not vaccinated, we don’t know that it’s “a disease you don’t have.” Symptoms can take several days to manifest and transmission is possible while asymptomatic. That’s really the whole point of the ROM.
Elita Perusek, whose son is in his final year at West Point, is a 1994 graduate of the academy herself.
She told “Hannity” Thursday evening that her son declined the vaccine but has tested positive for coronavirus antibodies on post – meaning school medical staffers were aware of his natural immunity.
“He was counseled before he left West Point by his tactical office who told him that because he chose to exercise his right to not take the vaccine that he would be called ‘susceptible status’…and that he would have to submit to restriction of movement throughout the summer,” she said. “Which meant that he would have to give up some of his leave.”
So, you’d think a West Point grad would have learned about tradeoffs somewhere along the way. Her son is in “susceptible status” because he chose not to get vaccinated and is therefore—wait for it—susceptible to the disease the vaccine is shown to prevent. The consequence of exercising his right to be susceptible and therefore potentially risking the health of other unvaccinated folks on the reservation is that he will be treated accordingly.
This new seven-day isolation quarantine is stricter than the previous restriction of motion (ROM) requirement that was in place when coming back from other breaks, such as the winter holiday, where cadets were still permitted out for activities including going to the mess hall.
Cadets were required to show a negative COVID-19 test and adhere to the ROM following breaks over the winter and last summer when cases were rising and there was no option for a vaccine.
Aside from the fact that the mess hall is right there on the main campus, it is indeed a fair question as to why the restriction on unvaccinated cadets in a sea of mostly-vaccinated cadets and faculty is harsher now than it was previously. That does, indeed, ring of harassment—or, at least, not-so-subtle pressure to get the jab.
Because of the ramped-up restrictions and the mandatory seven-day quarantine, several unvaccinated students with tight schedules won’t even be allowed to leave campus for the rest of the summer, while their vaccinated classmates can, sources explained.
But, again, that’s life in the big city. It’s perfectly reasonable for vaccinated cadets to have less restriction than those who chose not to get the vaccine.
As recently as last week, documents show unvaccinated cadets were cited with Negative Cadet Observation Reports, or NCORs, for violating mask and social distancing.
They were accused of sitting unmasked on outdoor bleachers within six feet of one another. They were also warned that further discipline would be forthcoming if they violated the guidelines again.
New York State, where West Point is located, has lifted its COVID-19 restrictions – but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines still urge unvaccinated individuals to continue to mask up.
The school’s specific guidelines for unvaccinated cadets state masks should be worn in the barracks and shared spaces – including bathrooms and showers.
“In shared indoor spaces masks are required,” the school’s public affairs office said. “Identical to the academic year mask requirements, if the shower and bathroom is in a shared indoor space, non-vaccinated individuals are required to wear a mask when not performing personnel hygiene.”
Unless things have changed radically, there are no private bathrooms or showers in the barracks at West Point. So, yes, these restrictions are in exactly alignment with CDC guidance and it’s perfectly reasonable to punish those who refuse to follow orders.
The only time the guidelines don’t require masks for unvaccinated individuals is during physical training – when they’ll presumably be breathing heaviest.
This strikes me as idiotic. But it was the policy aboard all military installations until the day after the radical change in CDC guidelines. Even though I was fully vaccinated, I was required, by order of the Secretary of Defense, to wear a mask at all times aboard Quantico, even outdoors, unless I was out running.
Sources also alleged that unvaccinated cadets are being derided as “diseased” and “dirty” and treated as outcasts on campus despite having concerns about the vaccine’s side effects or having obtained natural immunity to the virus from prior infection.
Vaccinated cadets have allegedly been told to avoid socializing with their unvaccinated peers.
The school acknowledged that such heckling had been reported but said the issue had been addressed.
“Any harassment, abuse, threats, or punitive measures targeting unvaccinated personnel is incompatible with West Point policies, ideals, and Army values,” the public affairs office said.
So, West Point is a collection of 4000-odd, highly intense young people aged 17-22. There’s a Plebe system, which entails a year of rather intense harassment. It’s not the least bit surprising that there is some not-so-subtle peer pressure being applied to roughly three dozen outliers who are highly visible because they’re the ones running around with masks.