Carleton’s current COVID-19 response scares me. Student attitudes toward it scare me more.
Last week, a news article was published in the Carletonian describing the current COVID-19 situation on campus with quotes from four students. The first described COVID-19 as a cold, the second equated it to other infectious diseases on campus (presumably referring to colds), the third complained about masks and the fourth, the only one that did not minimize Covid, recognized the importance of masks. None of the quotes addressed the very real potential of getting sick.
I’m not going to comment on the characterization of masks as “bothersome” or even more broadly the triviality of complaining about masks for the vast majority of students. Carleton is moving away from COVID-19 restrictions, identifying far fewer students as close contacts, not providing Green-to-Go options in the dining halls and testing fewer students — in other words, Carleton is encouraging cavalier attitudes towards COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been clear that more information about how the virus is spreading is always helpful. I, and other students, think of Carleton as an institution that values knowledge. And yet, the new guidelines for contact tracing prevent students from needing to get tested for COVID-19, as students who spend significant amounts of time around people who later test positive for COVID-19 are not considered to be close contacts and thus are ineligible for testing before becoming symptomatic unless they are roommates or “intimate partners.” Less testing may reduce the number of positive cases and the spread of information regarding COVID-19, but it does not reduce the rates of COVID-19 on campus.
This lack of testing makes it less likely that asymptomatic students will learn that they have COVID-19, which may make Carleton’s COVID-19 rates look better, but it also endangers immunocompromised students, allowing them to be exposed to people who may be infected. In a Carletonian News article about those new measures, the voices of those immunocompromised students cannot be left aside.
I don’t claim to be able to speak for all immunocompromised students, or even anyone besides myself. But as someone who had COVID-19, believe me when I say you don’t want COVID-19. Exactly two months ago, I wrote a Viewpoint about my experience testing positive for COVID-19. That was a stressful experience, and, all things considered, I would rather not repeat it — the stress of isolating, dealing with quarantine meals, Zoom calls and planning how to get home were all unpleasant — but none of that compared to actually having COVID-19.
I got a COVID-19 test because I had a sore throat, and I know people who, while quarantined, had only cold-like symptoms. And for all the students who say COVID-19 is just a cold, I sincerely hope that should they ever get COVID-19, it will be for them. But it wasn’t for me. At least it didn’t stay that way for long — I nearly ended up in the ER with COVID-19. And students need to recognize that it won’t be a cold for everyone.
For me, COVID-19 wasn’t about the 13-page essay that felt impossible to write in quarantine, it wasn’t about microwaved eggs and staring at the same walls day after day. And I know that’s not true for everyone. And I don’t really mean to write this article as a comment on Carleton’s COVID-19 policies really, although I do think it would be great if there was enough testing being done to know what the current COVID-19 rates are. Instead, this article is intended as a reminder to students that their experiences aren’t necessarily universal.
I debated whether to share my experience with COVID-19 — I couldn’t decide whether I wanted people to know how sick I was — but there needs to be more awareness of the actual risks of COVID-19. I nearly wrote this Viewpoint anonymously, but I shouldn’t be embarrassed by the idea of people knowing this about me, and I want students to know that the risks of COVID-19 aren’t hypothetical.
COVID-19 isn’t a cold. And I know most students at Carleton aren’t at high risk for COVID-19, I know that the majority of students here will probably be fine if they get COVID-19, but there are two things those students should consider. The first is easy: empathy. Students need to recognize that by treating COVID-19 as mild, as a disease that we will all inevitably contract, they are endangering people around them. Their classmates, their professors and yes, maybe their friends. Immunocompromisation doesn’t come with an ID badge: it is impossible to know whether the people one interacts with every day are going to be okay if they develop COVID-19, and it’s careless to simply assume they will be.
Discussions of COVID-19 cannot cast aside the experiences of immunocompromised students. Maybe for some students COVID-19 is just a cold, but Carleton’s response as an institution should not only reflect the needs of most students. This article in the Carletonian reflected the deeply harmful narrative that Carleton students will all be okay if they get COVID-19. This perspective is dangerous, and I have to believe that we can, and must, aspire to better than that.