Letter to the Editor

Jesse Pellow

Through the recent news story “University president, VP meet with students to discuss rise in campus COVID cases,” it has come to my attention that there are students at the university who chose Franciscan because it did not have a mask mandate or vaccine mandate at the time of their application.

I am currently a part-time student studying theology, and I am also an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) working at a nursing facility run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirmed. I have heard many arguments against mask mandates — the most popular one being that somehow, they violate personal liberty and religious freedom.

I recently submitted a letter to the editor at the Altoona Mirror responding to a parent at the school board meeting who said, “Masks are carnage, damage and pain.” Another parent stated that “masks caused her daughter more anxiety.” The list goes on and on.

First, let me explain how an airborne virus works, and then I will get into the personal liberty and religious exemption part. An airborne virus is transmitted through small respiratory droplets. Methods of transmission can include coughing, laughing, singing and even talking. What a mask does is reduce the number of droplets being spread, and they work best when everyone is wearing one.

The concept here is not about personal liberty but personal responsibility. When you choose to live in a communal setting such as a university or a nursing home, it helps when everybody is practicing good hygiene. Mask mandates and vaccination mandates do not violate anyone’s religious beliefs but reflect a sense of care and concern for one’s neighbor. This is precisely what this is about.

What really bothers me the most is the fact that people chose to go to a university without a life-protecting mandate. As Catholics we believe that all life is sacred, including the lives of those around us. Wearing a mask and getting a vaccine are moral responsibilities as they reflect Jesus’s teaching to love your neighbor. A virus is not a political weapon, but it has been made into one by certain groups who are anti-government.

Let me repeat. These are life-saving mandates aimed at protecting the health and wellbeing of every person, not just an individual’s personal liberty and freedom. If you ever take Philosophy with Dr. Gage, you will learn that Aristotle not only taught about individual rights but also the welfare of the city.

Faith is not opposed to science, but we must let our reason and faith work together. They are not opposites. I am just very bothered by some of you who are unwilling to take measures to protect your neighbor and who chose to come to a university to practice a belief system that does not include good works.

St. Paul tells us that we must bear with one another and forgive one another. St. James teaches us that faith without good deeds is dead. So, the main question here is, “How does a pandemic affect my religious freedom?” This is something I ask all of you to pray about and to meditate on.

If you have not been vaccinated, I urge you to do so. Healthcare workers, doctors and nurses are getting burned out, myself included, because of misguided ideologies and falsehoods about viruses and vaccines.

Write home to your local school boards and encourage them to enact mask mandates that help protect children’s health and wellbeing. I urge you to visit reputable websites, like the CDC or academic journals, rather than Twitter and YouTube before you make assumptions that are based on conspiracy theories and fairy tales.

The only way we will get over COVID-19 is if we reach herd immunity, and that only occurs when enough people get vaccinated. I also encourage you to read about the life of Jonas Salk and his work on the polio vaccine.

We can beat COVID-19, but we must overcome anti-vaxx disinformation and political ideologies to meet the most pressing crisis of our times. We as Catholics have an obligation to protect life and encourage good works that protect life, including our most vulnerable.