Top SG leaders disagree on how to prevent COVID-19

Student Body President Maxwell Simonson is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and isn’t planning to be. His vice president, Lily MacDonald, however, believes getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to combat the virus.


Photo by Eston Parker III and graphic by Marcy Wilder and Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Four months after being sworn in, Maxwell Simonson (right) and Lily MacDonald (left) are completely split when it comes to the world’s most pressing health concern, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kendall Little, Managing Editor

When Maxwell Simonson and Lily MacDonald ran for student body president and vice president together in April, they were on the same page with their campaign promises.

Four months after being sworn in, the two members of Student Government are completely split when it comes to the world’s most pressing health concern: the COVID-19 pandemic.

One is vaccinated, one isn’t.

Together, the top student government officials are leading the university’s students through uncharted territory: balancing personal opinions with the best way to keep the FAU community protected from the coronavirus.

Dueling opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine

Simonson told the UP that he is unvaccinated and doesn’t plan on receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. MacDonald, however, is fully vaccinated and said she believes it is one of the most effective ways to prevent contracting COVID-19.

“Vaccinations have been mandated for… years now and I think it’s the most effective way to prevent COVID from spreading. In order to get into FAU originally as a freshman, you have to send over certain vaccination records to prove that you’re vaccinated for certain illnesses,” MacDonald said. “I think requiring a COVID-19 vaccination mandate isn’t as crazy as some people have been saying it is.”

Simonson disagrees, saying it should be a matter of personal choice.

“I personally do not plan to get vaccinated. I’m not anti-vaccine, but I’m healthy and practice good [health] requirements,” he said. “I don’t think I need it.”

Simonson said that he consulted multiple medical professionals, including his father, before deciding to remain unvaccinated.

He believes that following basic health procedures is the best way to avoid contracting the virus.

“Don’t touch your face and wash your hands as much as you can and take your vitamins and drink water,” he said. “That’s the best preventative way because the way you contract it is touching your face and it goes into your [nose and mouth.]”

Simonson is partially right about the way the virus is spread.

According to the World Health Organization, “a person can be infected when aerosols or droplets containing the virus are inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. People may also become infected by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus when touching their eyes, nose or mouth without cleaning their hands.”

The student body president says he has never gotten COVID-19 and attributes it to practicing basic hygiene procedures, but acknowledges that getting vaccinated may be the best decision for others, “especially the elder community.” In fact, he told the UP he’s already gotten his flu shot.

But doctors say it’s important for young people to get vaccinated too. “Even younger, healthier adults without comorbidities are experiencing significant illness as a result of COVID-19 infection resulting from the Delta variant when they are unvaccinated,” Dr. Joanna Drowos, Associate Professor of Integrated Medical Science at the university’s College of Medicine, said.

Florida state universities say that they do not legally have the power to mandate vaccines on campus, citing guidelines set forth by the state. However, the exact rules or regulations haven’t been made clear by the state governor’s office. At the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, state university presidents—including FAU President John Kelly—signed a joint statement urging students to get vaccinated.

MacDonald took part in organizing the university’s vaccine incentive program, which began Aug. 30, with Dr. Larry. Faerman, acting vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

“I spoke with Dr. Faerman about getting it implemented and I gave him the feedback of all the other universities that are doing something similar. I’m trying to encourage students as often as I can to get vaccinated,” she said.

Simonson said that he meets with the other Florida state schools’ student body presidents every month to discuss issues like an incentive program.

“Everyone’s kind of on the same page with everyone. We’re all doing incentives, we’re talking about programs and gift cards,” he said. “We were pretty productive with that because if we’re gonna do it, we wanted to make it fast and we want to be efficient, but also very effective.”

Simonson said that he supports the incentive program, but it isn’t enough to sway his decision to stay unvaccinated.

“I really like $150 and I would love it, but it’s not enough incentive for me to get,” he said. “For people who want to get vaccinated, I think it’s a nice bonus.”

Unmasked and unafraid

MacDonald believes that masks are an effective way to combat COVID-19, so she wears one whenever she is indoors on campus.

“I believe that the best way to combat COVID is social distancing and wearing a mask no matter where you are,” MacDonald said. “Anytime I’m inside a place, I always do my best to wear my mask.”

Simonson’s stance on masks is more relaxed.

“If I need to [wear a mask, I do,] but not always,” he said, unmasked in his office in the Student Union. University administration says that face coverings are strongly recommended while indoors on campus.

Simonson says he dictates whether or not he wears a mask depending on who he is around.

Maxwell Simonson (left) took the Bonfire stage unmasked with Flo Rida on Sept. 9. (Eston Parker III)

The student body president attended a full-capacity UP meeting without a mask on Aug. 27 and two weeks later, took the stage unmasked at the university’s Bonfire Music Festival, which was attended by 2,800 people.

Our leaders on protecting our campus

MacDonald said that if the university implemented a mask mandate, it would likely cause a decrease in on-campus cases. The university has documented over 200 COVID-19 cases so far this semester, with 87.2% of the cases reported on the Boca Raton campus.

“I do think a mask mandate could possibly help prevent cases. I know right now they’re strongly recommended. I think right now with the strong recommendation that it’s still preventing the spread of it,” she said. “I do think a mask mandate for all over campus could be a little bit more helpful as well.”

Simonson said that he is pleased with the way the university is handling COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Right now, we’re having COVID testing and promoting healthy habits,” he said. “We have a lot of masks everywhere, so whatever the students want, if they want masks, they’re there for them.”

He emphasized that the university follows guidelines from the State University System of Florida, which states that vaccines and masks are encouraged, but not required.

“We’re a state school, so we have to abide by whatever the state says,” Simonson said.

SG Leaders disagree on handling of the pandemic at a state level

The president and vice president have a disconnect regarding how the state of Florida is handling the pandemic as well.

“I do think Florida could do a bit better with social distancing,” MacDonald said. “A Florida mask mandate could really help decrease cases but since no laws are really requiring that, no businesses are requiring it either and I think that’s also probably increasing cases.”

Simonson believes that the state has handled the pandemic better than most.

“COVID is very real. It’s a very real and deadly disease, but if we look at the numbers of [state] schools, we’re doing very well,” he said. “For example, Alabama, when they came back [to school], their [numbers] were off the charts.”

The state of Alabama is currently experiencing an average of 78 per 100,000 COVID-19 cases per day, while Florida’s average is 66 per 100,000, according to the New York Times.

Throughout the pandemic, Florida has experienced 15,789 COVID cases per 100,000, while Alabama has experienced slightly fewer with 15,119 per 100,000, according to the New York Times.

Simonson and MacDonald aren’t the first people to disagree about COVID-19.

The university’s Business and Economics Polling Initiative (BEPI) conducted a poll in Aug. that asked participants fifteen questions about COVID-19, mask mandates, and vaccinations.

Not one question received a unanimous answer.

“It’s not a political statement,” Simonson said. “It’s understanding medical procedures and where we are in today’s modern medicine.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our September issue titled “SG Leaders Unmasked,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.