On Monday, Aug. 17, the first day of classes, I woke up in my double room with a fever. I emailed my professors to let them know that, yes, it’s the first day of classes, and yes, I won’t be able to make it in person. I also let my roommate know that I wasn’t feeling well.
Characteristic of the nationwide spread, very few days had elapsed on our University’s campus before COVID-19 — which had prematurely ended the University’s spring semester — came to wreak havoc this time around. After becoming fully symptomatic and receiving a test that same Monday, the results came in late Tuesday night: I was COVID-19 positive.
My COVID-19 situation eerily mirrored the one sent out as an image at the top of University President John Bravman’s “Mask Up or Pack Up” email: I was likely exposed in the few days before I arrived on campus. However, I received no test on move-in day because I had negative tests from seven and 14 days prior to moving in. Had I received a rapid test during move-in, as students who failed to hear back from their second test did, the chances that my then-asymptomatic case would have been screened out before move-in would have been much greater. I would be surprised if I was the only student with that experience.
I was among the first half-dozen University students to go to off-campus isolation housing at the Comfort Suites. There, Student Health did daily check-ins as promised to monitor my symptoms, and I’m extremely fortunate that my overall condition remained stable. The actual logistics of the isolation, and who to include in such accommodations, however, were being worked out as the various departments went along (University administration, Student Health, the volunteer contact tracers, Dining Services, etc.).
While I do understand that much of this supply chain is new, with much to be ironed out in its execution, a lapse in the University’s isolation policy kept me living with my roommate while I was symptomatic with a fever for 36 hours. While I can’t conclusively say that he caught COVID-19 from our brief time living together, I can say that he tested positive several days after I did.
Here, I will be brutally honest: while I have heard offhandedly of people I tangentially knew from high school that got COVID-19, I had never really considered getting it myself. Statistics like 175,000 dead or millions infected are numbing and difficult to consider. When one of my friends was in high school, he wrote an essay called “I Don’t Care about School Shootings,” where he details the numbing effect of tragedy after tragedy on young peoples’ ability to actually consider their depth. Unconsciously minimizing tragedies becomes all too easy when their breadth and depth become incomprehensible. Here, I believe a similar effect has applied. The New York Times’ front page a few months back, showing a name and short biography for 1,000 of those dead, just 1% of the nationwide losses at that point, burns poignantly in my mind.
It can be easy to lose sight of the point of these guidelines and regulations. I am no exception to that trend: as a young person, it has still taken me a long time to critically consider the effects of my actions.
To students: follow guidelines. Wear masks. Socially distance. And do not go to parties or large social events. This disease is not pleasant or “easy” to get over. Isolation is not enjoyable for anyone involved, but especially not for your friends. If you begin to show symptoms or test positive, current policy necessitates a 14-day isolation of you and anyone you have seen within the past 48 hours. That isolation is not fun (but necessary), so avoid exposure if at all possible, even if solely for that reason.
To the administration: enforce the guidelines you set. If mistakes happen in the carrying out of these policies, admit it candidly and transparently, with a new plan to be better. Help your students to be well-informed and safe, for they trust you with their lives and futures here at Lewisburg.
Holding in-person instruction in the midst of a pandemic is bound to be rife with missteps and misinformation that seem clear in retrospect. This “fog of war” is something that I do understand when I say these words; however, many of these decisions don’t just seem clear in the retrospect, but in the current moment as well. Transparency of all decision-making processes and inclusion of students in that conversation is vital to act with 100 percent of the best information that we have, right now.
While the “onus is on us [individuals]” to keep the spread at bay, as Bravman wrote in an email to the campus community, it is also on the administration to enable good decision-making through sound policy-making and to take appropriate action against intentional bad decision-making. I will not be the last student to catch COVID-19 while in Lewisburg, and our University’s decisions regarding this crisis must rise to serve not only our students but the community that we live in at large.