by Stephanie Hauer
If your social media feeds look anything like mine, they’re probably filled with endless content about COVID-19. Some of it is relatively lighthearted, like the corona-saurus rex or the penguins who got to meet Amazonian fish. But many of the posts are somber and stressed; schools are switching to online learning, businesses are closing their doors, and stores are struggling to maintain their stock of essential items due to panic buying behaviors. Cities and states are initiating curfews or shelter-in-place orders, and people everywhere are encouraged to practice social distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the cancellation of all gatherings with more than fifty people for the next several weeks. Entire countries are on lock-down. In other words, life as we know it has been seriously disrupted.
These disruptions have a variety of far-reaching effects. For example, I’m a college student in my last semester. I was home on spring break when I was informed that my college would be extending our break by one week, and then switching to remote learning for three weeks. In early April, my college will evaluate the current state of affairs and decide if we continue with online classes, or return to campus for the rest of the semester. While there technically is hope that we’ll go back to campus, the current trajectory of the virus does not seem like it will allow us to do so. And with the CDC guideline against large gatherings extending through the weekend of my graduation, each passing day solidifies my expectation that I won’t ever return to campus in a meaningful way.
I, like many other college seniors, am heartbroken by this. This semester marked the last few months that I would have with the wonderful people and places that I’ve called home for the past four years. I had finally reached the point where graduation no longer felt like a far-off, hazy, and unattainable concept; it was real, and it was close. Everything was starting to have a sense of finality to it. The gorgeous sunsets that greeted me every evening when I walked home from classes, the unexpected joy of spontaneous interactions that come from living and working in the same place… I was painfully aware of how fleeting it all was, and I was determined to make the most of it. I planned to fill my last few weeks with as many hang-outs and events as possible so that I could cherish my remaining time with my peers before we all scattered across the country to wherever our homes are.
All of that has been ripped away from me, and we didn’t even get the chance to say good-bye. None of the friends I’ve made at school live anywhere near me, so I most likely won’t see any of them again. I won’t get to thank the professors and supervisors who’ve supported me through the past eight semesters — at least, not in person. I’ll never get another chance to perform with my dance team. I won’t get to live out the traditions or make the memories that have been promised to me since my first year, because I won’t have a real senior week or graduation ceremony. Instead, all of my classmates and I will chat in online discussion posts, and maybe attempt to hold classes through video conference calls. Then, we’ll quietly disperse and disappear. Our diplomas will probably be mailed to us, and we’ll never get to celebrate all together or even get a final hug.
It hurts. Every single college senior I know, at my school and others, is emotionally aching. We’re all mourning the loss of the opportunities we’ve been working and waiting for. And we’re not the only ones who are facing these types of situations. Weddings, birthday parties, and all kinds of celebrations are getting cancelled. The call for isolation is interrupting everyone’s lives. But as Rev. Jacqui Lewis said on Twitter, “It’s scary to watch everything getting canceled — to see empty streets or watch Broadway go dark. But, these are really signs of hope: People making tough and painful decisions to reduce viral transmission. Right now, love looks like an empty stadium.”
Despite how upset I feel at the loss of my senior year, at my core, I know it’s the right decision. These sacrifices are painful, but they’re necessary. The goal in all of this is to save human lives, and that’s always of utmost importance. Social distancing practices are designed to protect those among us who are most vulnerable to the virus. If cancelling my graduation is what it takes to help keep people alive, then I will don my cap and gown in the quiet of my own house and Skype my fellow seniors for a virtual celebration.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the intensity of these quarantine measures. Some people think that because they are young and healthy, they are not really at risk. Others think that all of this is an over-reaction. But social distancing is not just about the individual who stays home — it’s about their entire community. By isolating ourselves as much as possible, it prevents the spread of the virus. Even if you are young and healthy and could recover well, the people you come in contact with might not have those advantages. Those who are elderly or have underlying health issues or disabilities are at greater risk if infected, and they deserve to be protected.
By practicing social distancing, we can each help protect the lives of those around us. By reducing the transmission rate, everyone has a better chance at staying healthy. And those who do get seriously sick will be more likely to have access to the medical supplies they need, such as a bed in the ICU or a ventilator to assist their breathing. This is why it is so vital to “flatten the curve.”
It can feel awful to have to give up part of your life, especially if it’s something you’ve had your heart set on for a long time. But the alternative is even more devastating. Social distancing is a vital tool to protect the lives of the people around you. Without it, people will needlessly die. So please, take reasonable precautions: stock up on medications and necessities without panic buying, wash your hands frequently, stay up to date on news without overwhelming yourself, take care of your mental health, and stay home as much as possible!