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Thoughts on COVID-19

Lucas shares his thoughts on everything that's been happening.

Lucas shares his thoughts on everything that's been happening.

Hey, everyone.

It’s safe to say that anyone reading this has been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by now. I truly wish I could give real help. Or at least some grand, cogent thesis that presents all this in a way that makes a little sense, offers some easy lessons. Obviously, I can’t. But I have one more post to write for this term, and I’m going to do my best to share my honest thoughts and feelings about all of this. I’m not sure what else there is to do.

My situation’s relatively good. I mean, it still feels like things suck. But, objectively, things are definitely good. I’m from Pasadena, a suburb outside of Los Angeles, so at the end of winter term, when LA was shaping up to be a real epicenter of all this, I chose to stay in the Midwest. It was a hard decision for a variety of reasons—I was foregoing the comfort of home, not seeing family and friends for that much longer, setting myself up for a last-minute search for a new living situation, all during what I perceive to be the most substantial global crisis I’ve lived through, no less—but it felt like the right one. And I’m incredibly lucky I had a choice to make in the first place. I’m staying with one of my best friends in the world (Larry’s appeared on some previous posts of mine), under the roof of an incredible and loving family in Palos Heights, a suburb outside of Chicago. I’m well fed, I have company, I have an internet connection. So far, we’re all healthy. Things are good.

But I have to admit that I’m sad. I’ve absolutely treasured my time at Carleton, to the point where I more or less decided I would never study abroad during a regular trimester because I was just that unwilling to miss a single term at the school. And now I’m doing just that: missing a(t least half a) term there, not to study abroad, but to stay inside, away from all but one of my friends. Worse still, I didn’t even have much of a chance to prepare: I didn’t realize it was time to see all the people I wanted to, do all the things I wanted to do, or just generally soak up what has shaped up to be my favorite place in the world before saying goodbye to it for who knows how long until it was too late. I had spring break plans with my roommate I was ridiculously excited for, and those disappeared in an instant. We were gonna go to a Dan Deacon concert once spring term started, too! At this point, I don’t even know what summer will look like. It’s incredibly frustrating spending one of my four college springs in quarantine, having day after empty day to think about how precious the time we’re all losing is. Not to mention how genuinely challenging it is to regulate mental and physical health while cooped up inside, waiting out a lethal virus.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? There is a lethal virus sweeping the world right now, and I’m just waiting it out. That puts me among the lucky ones. As hard as things are for me, they are immensely harder for an immense number of people. For me it’s a frustrating and lonely time. For others this is a matter of life and death.

So to those in my situation, at roughly my age, I want to say this: I think it’s important to accept our feelings about this stuff. Things are definitely rough right now, and it’s best to forgive the instances in which we feel a little sorry for ourselves. We’re all bummed out, and that’s okay. It’s understandable. Everyone’s likelihood of suddenly losing a loved one is higher right now. That’s scary, isn’t it? It is for me. (If there’s any way at all that I can help other people dealing with these worries, I want to. My email’s always attached to the end of these posts, but I’ll put it here too: I don’t know of what worth I might be to anyone right now. But if talking it all out, even with a perfect stranger, could help, please reach out. If there’s literally anything I can do.)

That being said, we must acknowledge our privilege and, more importantly, our duty to not make it harder for everyone else. Especially for those who have it worse. That boosted likelihood of losing someone is even greater for a plethora of at-risk communities right now. So stay inside when you can. Protect your health. Don’t make it any harder for others to do so. And ideally, if you’re up for it, find ways to actively make things a little better. Donate to those in need (shout out to CSA Representative Ozzy Cota for putting this together). Combat the spread of misinformation. Combat the illness itself. I know this might seem a little contradictory, but I honestly think it’s what makes the most sense right now.

We must simultaneously be gentle with ourselves, honest with our feelings, and rigorously maintain perspective. There’s no use wasting energy beating ourselves up over our natural reactions to all this. Let’s accept these negative feelings but appreciate our privilege, which has only been amplified by this new reality. By staying cognizant of this, we can direct our energy towards putting that privilege to use. Sadness is inevitable, but gratitude and action are our choices to make.

In short: let your disappointment ring true, but don’t let it overpower you. Instead, let your dismay at other people’s tragedies mobilize you, without letting it overwhelm you. It’ll be a balancing act, for sure. And I imagine it will, at times, get quite surreal. But it’s what we have to do.

So that’s my big picture perspective on all this. But I also want to go into more detail. How exactly can we honor our duties to others in this crazy time?

Precautions I’m taking

  • I’m practicing social distancing. Since leaving Carleton, I can count the number of outside humans I’ve come into contact with on two hands.
  • I’m keeping a stock of emergency supplies. That basically means keeping my box of medical equipment on hand at all times, and not letting my Soylent go anywhere.
  • I’m doing my best to sleep eight or more hours a night. An obvious one: I have a responsibility to those around me (not to mention the healthcare workers of the world) to keep my immune system in as good a condition as possible.
  • I’m doing my best to eat three real meals a day. A surprisingly challenging task given the weirdness quarantine’s brought to my schedule, but an important one for the reasons cited above.
  • I’m washing my hands for twenty seconds regularly. Often with some very serious soap.
  • I’m minimizing use of my hands, as well as their time around mucous membranes. This means using my elbow for anything I can, and not touching anywhere that could easily contract infection.
  • I’m hydrating regularly. For health reasons.
  • I’m trying to only breathe through my nose. Safer than through the mouth.
  • I’m covering my coughs and sneezes with my elbow. And immediately disinfecting after. You’ve probably been hearing a lot about this one.
  • I’m periodically sanitizing high-contact surfaces. This includes night stands, my phone, my computer, et cetera. I’m using Seventh Generation disinfecting wipes; it’s unclear how effective they are against COVID, but given short supply and other people’s greater need for more serious stuff, I’m making do for now.
  • I’m staying moisturized. Apparently, this actually helps. Protective buffer type thing.
  • I’m doing laundry frequently. This conflicts painfully with my passion for sustainability, but it’s necessary right now. Everything needs to be in service of our current top priority, which is minimizing spread.
  • I’m covering high-contact surfaces with copper tape. Now that I write that out I feel like I maybe fell for a spurious “solution”, but supposedly, respiratory diseases like this one don’t last long on copper surfaces. I don’t think it can hurt, but I don’t necessarily recommend going to the trouble with this one.
  • I’m keeping my nails trimmed. Apparently this is another good habit in service of spread minimization.

All of this adds up to doing my part to slow the spread of the virus. If I were to get it, and even if I were to assume that I’d end up okay, it’s my job not to put anyone else at risk, especially if they’d have an even harder time with it.

And I’m keeping myself informed. Not that staying updated on a bunch of oppressively up-ticking numbers does much good for me or my sanity, but knowing the science of this is important. I’m adding to my list of precautions as I learn. I’m not super worried about myself, but a recent problem has been our lack of concern for others. Even among the people who think they’re gonna be fine (and there really is no guarantee of that), I think every one of us has a moral obligation to do our part in containing the spread. I’m hoping you’ve all been exposed to the “Flatten The Curve” rhetoric by now. It’s serious. Respect it. A lot of people are lacking for motivation, structure, a daily routine to keep themselves busy. I recommend building one that involves protecting your safety and, by extension, the safety of your friends, family, community, and pretty much the world (as long as it doesn’t become its own unhealthy obsession). We’re all waiting for more information; in the meantime, these are ways I’m keeping myself occupied.

Speaking of more information…

Carleton’s steps

At a time where accurate information is paramount, I’m not going to pretend to be an ideal spokesman for Carleton; if you want to keep yourself informed of how the College is adapting to this ever-evolving situation, check out the page linked above. What I will speak to is how this is affecting me and some of my fellow students.

Again, I’m devastated to lose time at Carleton. And I really, really miss my professors and friends. But being together at college right now isn’t a smart move. Currently, our spring break has been extended by a week to allow professors extra prep time for spring term courses, which have been (at least partially) moved online.

Which brings me to the second part: at least the first half of spring term will be conducted remotely, meaning most students have moved out. We’ll be doing a lot of digital learning, and the transition will be hard. That’s just the reality of it. And I want to put emphasis on the “at least“: the rest of spring term may very well end up remote too. And while I’ll be devastated all over again when/if that announcement comes, I’ll respect the decision. Again, we can’t just be thinking about ourselves right now. Which brings me to the last change on my mind: it looks like spring term courses will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis. Of course I’m a little anxious about this: it’s honestly quite possible that a lack of a normal grading system, combined with study from home, will make it hard for me to stay motivated. Because of course grades can motivate; I’d be lying if I said they can’t. But again, this worry of mine pails in comparison to what some of my peers are dealing with. If we were to go on with a normal grading system, disadvantaged students living in environments even less conducive to effective learning would be disproportionately affected. It wouldn’t be fair to continue with business as usual. And who knows? It’s just as likely that removing the pressure of grades will actually improve things; I’ll be learning for the joy of doing so, not for a letter grade on a transcript.

So in summary, it’s important to keep our priorities and perspectives straight. Even as we manage our own personal feelings about the situation, we must bear in mind and prioritize the good of our community, and the safety and wellness of those at greatest risk.

Things are really unsure right now. At least I can say that I trust my school to make informed decisions, and my professors and peers to do their absolute best to make it all work. Whenever we do go back, it’ll certainly be interesting to take stock of what it all looks like and how things have changed. I’ll address this last.

How this could affect the future

Here I have some degree of choice. I can, and certainly sometimes do, go the cynical route: focus on the lost time and how I’m worried it could make friends drift apart and established communities dissolve. But I try not to. Partly because it just makes things worse, but partly because I have faith in my Carleton community. That sounds cheesy and very admissions-y. I’m sorry. It’s true.

What I’ve tried to do more is go the optimistic route. How can we make the best of a terrible situation? Support each other, for one. That again goes back to behaviors like spreading awareness, making intelligent donations, and the like. But more long term, I am actually hoping this shifts student attitudes whenever we all get back to campus.

It will certainly change mine.

Up until a few weeks ago, we were all bustling along, another normal year at Carleton humming away. Suddenly, everyone’s dispersed, a lot of us are scared, some of us are really suffering. It’s only easy to realize how much we had to appreciate in retrospect. But at least we recognize it now. We only have so much time together. Less, now. So I hope, I really really hope, that I’ll return to a campus where we’ve all woken up a bit to how much we need to cherish each other, and make the most of the time we have left. Naturally, we take what we have for granted, but I know if everything were magically zapped to normal right now that I would go absolutely nuts in the Spending Time With Friends category. I just miss them so much. And there are so many Carleton traditions and opportunities I’ve yet to take advantage of. Now, my next chance to do so may very well not come until I’ve entered the second half of my time at the school. So yeah, this is a simple one, but deeply felt. Times like this have the potential to strengthen community. I hope this is proves the case at Carleton.

More broadly, I hope this inspires some progress at the societal level. It’s definitely easy to be skeptical about that one. And, indeed, this crisis is exposing, deepening rifts throughout our national and global community. Of course it is. We’ve been thrown into a bit of chaos, some people and organizations just aren’t stepping up, and no one’s at their best right now. But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for some personal growth and hope it all adds up. We need to recognize this as a stark reminder of what we owe each other. As citizens. As humans. If we get sick, others get sick. Even if we don’t die, others do. It’s that simple and it’s that serious. Crises such as this can encourage selfish, defensive behavior, but as Interstellar‘s Doctor Brand puts it, “We must think not as individuals but as a species”. (It feels embarrassing and weird to quote a movie right now, but honestly, this entire post has felt a bit embarrassing and weird. I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable and a bit messy right now, and I hope that counts for something.) Our choices today, however small or automatic, have tangible, far-reaching impacts on those with whom we share this planet. It’s always true, but even more so now. Take a look at the assumptions you make, the people and consequences you consider. The ways different communities and countries are responding to all this, the strengths and weaknesses these different approaches display. It’s not easy to look at all of this and say, “Hey! An opportunity to learn!” Yet it’s one of the most important times to do so. This is largely unprecedented, but it will happen again, and next time we must be better prepared. Learning is our responsibility.

For more perspectives, I recommend doing some reading on this subject. Some may find solace in keeping COVID as far away from their daily consciousness as possible. For others, such as myself, it may come from embracing the onslaught and trying to sift for meaning. For a multifaceted survey with at least some encouraging conclusions, check out this article on some potential permanent changes the coronavirus may bring about.

COVID can be stopped, but only with dedication, sacrifice, and the ability to respect and listen to the experts. I like the question Neil DeGrasse Tyson posed on the matter: “will people listen to science? If Grandma doesn’t, gently but firmly suggest that she does, for everyone’s sake. If your classmates don’t, apply some social pressure. Social media is good for that – you can encourage necessary social distancing by setting a good example. More broadly, I sincerely hope the answer to Tyson’s question is yes. Because it’s quite literally our only option.

Observe. Write. Reflect.

We’re living in a historic moment. What we leave behind may very well end up serving as those “primary sources” we keep hearing about in history class. A way to help future generations when something like this inevitably happens again. In the meantime, will we be okay? Yes and no, I guess. We’ll take losses. But yes, this will end. And that’s the simultaneously comforting and terrifying fact we have to face: most of us will get through this.

In the meantime, please take care of yourself. Please take care of the people around you. It’s the same thing.

Lucas is sheltering in place, possibly for the rest of his sophomore year. He’s fighting his pandemic anxiety with a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and he hopes everyone is okay back there. He currently sees himself majoring in Physics, although he hopes to explore Cinema and Media Studies, Chemistry, Economics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) as well. He misses everyone and sends his love. Meet the other bloggers!