Opinion: COVID-19 is a challenge. It’s time we accept it
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we need to stay vigilant – even if it means making hard choices
This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.
I became a COVID-19 statistic on Nov. 23. I was one of the six coronavirus cases identified at American University within 48 hours of Thanksgiving break.
As a precaution, I’d taken two COVID-19 tests in preparation for seeing my grandpa, who is 85 years old, unvaccinated and high-risk. My first test on Monday was negative. But, after arriving home in Pittsburgh late Tuesday night, my phone buzzed with a notification from the Safer Community app. Before leaving campus, I tested positive for COVID-19.
I felt my heart drop into my stomach and my eyes burned with tears. I thought of all the friends I’d seen in the past couple of days who were already home with their families. The classmates who I’d sat with hours earlier. My professor who has a high-risk son at home. Could I have infected them? For the first time, I began to feel sick.
I woke up to five voicemails from AU Contact Tracing and my isolation coordinator. AU reached out to my close contacts and notified dozens of students that a classmate had tested positive. I spent that entire day personally reaching out to people I’d seen in the past few days.
According to AU Contact Tracing, I’d been exposed to COVID-19 on the Thursday or Friday before – days when I’d stayed on campus, attending classes or studying. But some people implied that I must have acted irresponsibly or that I wasn’t vaccinated. They made me feel like I’d done something wrong.
Luckily, all of my close contacts tested negative. As far as I know, I didn’t pass COVID-19 on to anyone. But I still worried I could’ve been a vector of infection not just on the AU campus, but also in the Washington, D.C. community. I thought about the strangers I’d come in contact with the weekend before I knew. The waiter who thought my nails were so pretty that he just had to touch them. An older woman shopping next to me at the Downtown Holiday Market. A man who offered me a seat on the Metro.
When I tested positive, the breakthrough infection rate for vaccinated people, like me and most of the AU community, was about one percent. That percentage is obviously much higher now. Days before winter break, 202 cases were reported at AU. And breakthrough infections are happening all across the country.
As I write this, the U.S. just reported over a million new cases of COVID-19 in a single day – a new record – and the death toll in the U.S. has risen to 831,000. But surprisingly, we seem to be taking COVID-19 less seriously than we were when case numbers were much lower. On Tik Tok, #CovidChristmas, a comical meme for those who celebrated Christmas while infected, has 125.5 million views. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shortened the COVID-19 isolation period from 10 days to five. Because vaccinated people are generally experiencing milder symptoms, we’re starting to treat the pandemic as a joke or an inconvenience.
When AU decided to move to virtual learning until Jan. 31, I wasn’t surprised — but I was disappointed by the reaction of some fellow students. Many classmates complained on social media about how their educational experiences, internships, or social lives would be affected. They claimed AU was overreacting or trying to cheat them of an in-person experience.
To be clear, I’m not excited to be on Zoom again. But we have to look at the facts.
On Dec. 29, the day the decision was announced, the district reported 1,412 cases and a record number of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. 29.6 percent of the city’s tests are coming back positive, the highest positivity rate ever. One out of every 50 D.C. residents has tested positive. Washington currently has a higher rate of cases per capita than any U.S. state.
The administration’s goal is not to deprive us of in-person learning, but to protect the city from 14,000 new vectors of disease – and to ensure we can stay on campus once we arrive. If we love this city, we should want to protect it while it’s at its most vulnerable, by moving to a short-term virtual model.
Our generation needs to realize that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, and we have to continue to adapt as the world around us changes. That might mean 15 days of online classes. It’s a sacrifice I think we can make.
We’re lucky we got an entire semester in person, even if it included masks and hand sanitizer. Now we can choose whether to stay home or isolate in the dorms. And, if we feel that 15 days on Zoom is unacceptable, or if we’re concerned that classes will remain online, then we can choose to take a gap semester.
I love the AU community, and I loved being on campus for four months. I met many wonderful people who want to make a positive impact on the world. That impact starts now by accepting that, despite our disappointment, we can’t safely be on campus right now. If we continue to mask up, get our COVID-19 boosters, and take other precautions, we can come together as a community and make an even bigger impact in the future.
Jane Caroline Fusco is a first-year student in the School of Communication.