by Fionna Farrell
[originally published May 9, 2022]
Prior to Spring break, just over a month ago, Obies were hopeful for some extra breathing room upon their return to campus. ObieSafe had sent out an email in March whose tone was cautious yet optimistic. First, masking was made optional across dining halls. Then, on the 28th of that month, mask requirements were lifted in all athletics and recreational facilities. The school promised to reevaluate the situation by April 21st; by that date, if case numbers continued to remain low, then masks would be fully optional in most campus buildings. Rooms would also be allowed to be used up to 100% capacity—although, for some events, it felt like that had already been the case.
There came the very bright news on 4/20 that masks would be optional in residence halls—only for it to be shattered a day later. On April 21st, ObieSafe reinstituted its former masking policies, following a sudden new spike in cases. Between the 20th and 28th, there have now been 29 positive rapid tests reported, as well as 93 positive self-reported tests across campus. And although we might not be seeing January levels of isolation, the number of quarantined students has once again peaked into the triple digits, reaching its max on April 23rd with 107 students. ObieSafe has narrowed down the sources of this newfound Spring surge to two things: spring break trips combined with “at least one social event hosted in a student apartment on Saturday (the 16th).”
I cannot quite recall my whereabouts the night of the 16th, but they most likely involved watching Gilmore Girls or the X-Files with one, two, or—God forbid—three close friends. I also did not choose to venture anywhere particularly ambitious this spring break. Not because clubbing in Miami doesn’t sound like a dream come true for my introverted self, but because, well, my cousin was visiting my hometown. How could I miss the opportunity to educate her on Marx and the ways of College Life? Already 5’9, she lumbered over me as we discussed the rat race and the Berkeley blood fountain (Berkeley was her first choice—at the time).
This was my idea of fun, but I certainly don't chagrin my more worldly peers for going somewhere cool, with or without their cousins. I have racked up some very exciting stories of Obie global tourism, everywhere from New England to the original England. It seems ridiculous that the college expects us to not spend our parents’ money to go somewhere nice for break, as per true Obie fashion. What were we supposed to do, take a foot safari through Dascomb?
In all seriousness, this new influx of cases is not an unserious matter. Why is it, then, that the language the college now employs seems to veer on the comical? What used to be essay-long emails, rife with layers of specificity not even my fastidious mother could decode, has turned into terse intro-paragraph vagaries. The idea of permanence has permanently forsaken us; instead of long-term solutions, we now get “We’ll see about it later.” Of course, this mode of thinking was only inevitable towards the beginning of the pandemic, when we really didn’t know what tomorrow might bring. But after two years of dread and exhaustion, a round of take-backs and pin-the-tail-on-the-Saturday-night-social is not what we need. It feels as though we have entered something resembling a blame game stage: who is responsible for the new spread? Which sports team ending in “osse” ought to be shamed?
This has created something of a noticeable riff across campus. Tired and so desperately wanting this all to be over, it can get more than a little exasperating when that one person in class still has not learned that the mask goes above the nose. Yes, we are all Obies, so we have a tendency to treat each other with the utmost calmness, but things can get trying at times. However, despite some peers’ slow adaptability to or carelessness of the rules, we should still remember that, at the end of the day, it is the school being haphazard with us. Not only have we been expected to wait over a month for a trustworthy update, but we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us in a matter of days. Hours.
This haphazard nature also carries over to how the college has been treating students in isolation. Many have said that they have only received only 1-2 meals a day and have been forced to rely on their friends for meal swipes. Meanwhile, the number of self-reported tests vastly outnumbers that of those offered by the college because the college simply can't keep up. While the school is quick to revert back to mask mandates and chastise ambiguous Saturday night get-togethers, they cannot meet the needs of their isolated or symptomatic students. While asymptomatic students exposed to the virus are encouraged to “continue attending class or coming to work.”
Perhaps a reason for all of this madness is that we feel like we’re finally stepping, if with trembling feet, out of the pandemic stage. Granted, this is not up to us. Fortunately, Dr. Fauci himself, on the 28th, said the nation is “out of the pandemic phase.” But the Washington Post quickly clarified: Dr. Fauci meant that the country is not out of the pandemic, but rather “the full blown explosive pandemic phase.” That still means we have a certain way about us to go. There will probably be several more curious cases of “social events hosted in student apartments” ahead of us. Or two friends who sit too close to one another on a bench in Tappan. Or some sort of spittle incident involving a brass instrument. The list of possibilities goes on ad infinitum. The important thing is that we don’t treat this incoming stage of the pandemic like a circus, as we step out of the more serious outcoming one. We still have to look out for each other, and the college, more acutely, for us—isolation sucks in May as much as it did in December. Perhaps, even more, with the sun out and everyone flocking to Wilder bowl. While we should not stop ourselves from flocking, we should still remember that it’s a relative privilege to do so. Meanwhile, those stuck in their rooms should not have to both stare at the sun and go hungry.