We’ve probably all heard it: “Maybe I’m just immune to this virus.” “I must have come in contact at some point … there’s a good chance I have the antibodies.” “If I was going to get it, I would’ve gotten it by now.” As a recently-recovered coronavirus patient, I’m here to say that while those all remain possibilities — no one is invincible.
About six months after COVID-19 initially appeared in the United States, it is understandable to feel like the virus should be gone by now. Most trends follow a natural evolution: we can entertain one for a while, but after a month or so, we get tired of it and move on to another. Unfortunately, however, that isn’t how a pandemic works. Even more regrettably, we are witnessing the detrimental effects of this wishful thinking as cases surge all around us, especially on college campuses.
I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t been perfect when it comes to COVID-19 precautions since coming back to Truman State University’s campus in August. Being a member of several extracurricular organizations and having on-site responsibilities, I rationalized my actions by assuring myself that the gatherings I attended were small enough, the interactions were unavoidable and, surely, there was only a slight chance I’d get it — I mean, all this time and it hadn’t infected me yet? One month in, however, the thing I had gradually lost fear over is exactly what I contracted.
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I am not arguing that I have done it all to mitigate this virus, but rather hoping you can learn from my faulty reasoning. I know it’s easy to get a little apathetic about maintaining safety while being on campus during this time, inevitably coming in contact with several different individuals and environments. Our growing “couldn’t be me” mentalities and main character fallacies might provide a false sense of protection from this virus as we navigate the heightened risks, but that shouldn’t keep us from staying proactive and reactive for the health of both ourselves and those around us.
As far as prevention goes, many ponder where the line is between wearing or not wearing a mask. We generally see roommates or significant others — or maybe even our significant others’ roommates — as acceptable to meet under these conditions. But because this is college, it’s not like we’re staying in one place — we’re all interacting with other people and places too. And what if you’re part of an organization that must meet in-person? Is it okay to take off protective gear while spreading out as long as you use masks during close interactions? These are questions I’ve grappled with over the past few weeks, and still have not come to a conclusive verdict.
What I do know is this: If we are willing to take the risks of engaging in activities at the University and otherwise, we must be willing to take responsibility for the possible consequences. That is not to say these acts are all inherently shameful, because again, those are the concerns that come with attending in-person college. But the choices we make will undoubtedly have repercussions, and it is on us to respond accordingly.
The onset of my symptoms preceded four painful days of internal conflict and denial. It was a print issue production week here at The Index, and I didn’t want to leave my section up to someone else on staff just because of an overreaction to allergies. I run cross country and didn’t want my team’s season to suffer just because I was experiencing a sinus infection. Looking back, I should have taken my symptoms more seriously and not allowed external pressure to diminish concern over the pressure within my head. Although it was difficult, I ultimately chose to forgo these activities during that time of uncertainty to stop the possibility of further spread.
But of course, it’s easy to identify where I went wrong when looking back. It’s a far more difficult task to know what to do in those crucial moments. You’re worried about inconveniencing the lives of those around you, forgetting about the largest possible disruption of all: enduring COVID-19 and its associated health problems.
If you are an administrator, faculty member or coordinator of some sort, please do not place the burden of hiding ailments or guilt of showing symptoms upon those you reside over. Luckily my discomfort was mostly self-imposed, but several of my peers unfortunately encountered even further pushback from superiors. Yes, a positive test could be bothersome for your organization, but an unacknowledged case will prove even more troubling.
If you are a potential contact, you might be frustrated, and understandably so. Why should your life be put on hold because of someone else’s irresponsibility? In actuality, however, being listed to contact tracers requires being within six feet for over fifteen minutes without a mask — meaning you likely put yourself at the same risk. I urge you to resist the temptation of making your case against quarantine measures and instead take a step back to contemplate your role in the situation, as well as the consequences that could follow.
It’s normal to want to launch a blame-game of sorts, but with the nearly inescapable nature of this virus, it is rarely the fault of one person. Furthermore, criticism cannot cure anyone of the virus, nor make your infected friend feel any better. Instead, maybe reflect on your behavior, the circumstances at hand and other factors that might potentially be preventable in the future.
If hindsight is 20/20, maybe we can look back on 2020 with a clearer understanding of what we could have done better. But perhaps we can also gain that same insight by taking charge of how we respond and actively thinking about how we can improve the situation.
I certainly don’t know it all because of my bout with coronavirus, but it has opened my eyes as to how we can become better prepared to address cases as they arise. It’s not just up to you, of course: it will take a greater sense of ownership by peers and leadership from positions of authority. Whatever your perspective on the situation, however, it is imperative that we at least consider our contributions to what’s at stake: as individuals, organizations and our institution as a whole.