Opinion: Consider Your Impact for Collective Health
By Emma Armstrong, Guest Columnist
During the week leading up to spring break, the coronavirus epidemic seemed distant to me. It only existed in casual speculative chit-chat amongst teachers and students. Questions like “Will the American Chemical Society Conference get canceled?” and “Should I go visit my sister in California and spend time on an airplane?” were some of the conversation fragments I heard. I don’t think that any student leaving campus on Friday, including myself, would have envisioned that just one week later, things would be as they are now.
Within my first three days home, each nightly newscast had become more somber. The virus that I had thought was just a West Coast problem had become a New York problem and then unexpectedly a New Jersey problem. People just one town over from me were suddenly testing positive for coronavirus. Shelves of the local ShopeRites, Acmes, and Aldis were growing desolate, devoid of paper and canned goods. Within days of being home, what seemed like a few isolated cases had become a pandemic.
During the first days of spring break, I was glued to my phone. I cycled between checking the news, checking social media, and texting my friends at other schools to see how their institutions were reacting to the current situation. It didn’t take long to find that schools including Bucknell, Princeton, Amherst, and Rutgers were closing for the remainder of the semester and opting for remote learning. I awaited a message from Gettysburg addressing the pandemic in relation to our campus community. I have to say, I was slightly taken aback when the email informed us that spring break had been extended by a week. At the time, I was a bit panicked about the whole situation and I was anticipating reading a more decisive, definitive email like what my friends at other schools had received. Now, though, I can see that the spring break extension effectively elongated the time in which the college can formulate a formal response to the global situation and make a plan of action.
I personally would not feel comfortable returning to campus even if that is what the college decides on. I am young, able-bodied, and do not have any underlying medical conditions that make me more susceptible to the coronavirus. However, when thinking about public health, one cannot only consider only oneself. Think of the people you pass on your way to Commons each morning. Think of the students sitting to your left and right during class. Think of the people who use the same gym equipment, doorknobs, computers, lab materials, and bathrooms. There is little to no way of knowing if the hundreds of people you come in contact with daily are in an immunologically compromised position. Additionally, many professors on our campus are in the age group most potentially affected by the coronavirus. I do not think it is reasonable to ask them to put themselves at increased risk solely so that we may retain our standard college way of life. I would hate that my selfish desire for a normal semester to continue on as normal to be the reason that a student or faculty member at Gettysburg falls ill with the virus. I must consider how my actions put others at risk. We all must think about how our actions put others at risk.
I hope that the college makes a decision that considers the health and wellbeing of all its students and staff. Yes, I understand that the idea of moving to remote learning is new and frightening for everyone at Gettysburg College. There is a multitude of unknowns regarding how the transition could be made and how it would be maintained. But it is also new and frightening for every other institution of higher education who has made the decision to transition to online instruction. Gettysburg College is not in the position to be stubborn or inflexible regarding the public health of not only the school but also the country. Gettysburg College encourages global understanding and now, more than ever, it is the time to think about how you as an individual can impact those around you.