Notes from the Desk: We’re still a long way from the finish line

By THE OPINION DESK

 

Benjy Renton

By August 29, all but one member of the on-campus student body had tested negative upon arrival for Covid-19. As results trickled in Sunday afternoon, cheers echoed down residence halls as students, who had been confined to their room for nearly two days, rushed outside to join their friends and peers. Many embarked on jogs around campus while others sat distanced on the grass in groups resisting the familiar temptation to hug, hold hands or share a meal in close proximity. Despite the strangeness that accompanied navigating this new normal, the tone that fell over campus was one of elation, commotion and relief. 

But as we continue to reunite with friends, classmates and significant others, it remains imperative that we do not allow our excitement to sideline or relax the necessary safety precautions. Yes, our arrival day results were favorable — affirming that students took their 14-day home quarantine seriously. But we cannot let our guard down right now.  

It is crucial to remember that Covid-19 has a median incubation period of four to five days. Any transmission that occurred during travel to campus, especially in regard to airplane travel, will likely not result in a positive test until about five days following the original exposure — if not later. This is why all students will be tested on Day Seven, as testing negative on Day Zero does not necessarily mean you do not have the virus. Thus, we urge the administration to underscore the importance of the next few days regarding the ability to pull off an on campus semester — a message that has been somewhat vacant from administrative communication since last Friday.

As the Day Seven testing approaches, we must remain attentive to this risk and not fall victim to a distorted sense of security or freedom. Take the University of Notre Dame as an example:  Positive results from testing on arrival there first remained in the single digits. Ten days later, there were over 600 active cases on campus. We must ensure that we are not celebrating prematurely while unknowingly rushing headfirst into a situation that endangers both the wider community and those around us. 

While it may not seem like it at first glance, the behavior we exhibit this week will determine how the rest of the semester plays out. If we do not strictly adhere to safety guidelines during its incubation period, the virus can easily disperse through the student body. Even slight transgressions have the capacity to be unmasked as precarious consequences, as actions of a few individuals could cause infection to reverberate throughout the community. For instance, at the University of Southern California, small group gatherings like study groups or students playing board games are believed to be the leading source of Covid-19 spread, even though larger parties have been taking place in tandem. 

We get it. This is tough. Not seeing your friends for five months (if not more) is excruciating. Finally reuniting with them after so long and still being unable to hug or interact in close proximity doesn’t come naturally. But as painfully enticing as it may be to visit a romantic partner or invite another suite over for drinks, the potential damage of such choices far outweigh the temporary high. 

It can feel bleak, but we must let go of our beloved routines for the time being — the Saturday morning trips to Burlington, the jam-packed Atwater ragers, the bustle of Proc at 6:30 p.m. It’s hard and it sucks — and we shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t. But we also cannot pretend that it is possible for us to live those same lives right now. After all, the more intentional and patient we are now, the more independence we’ll be granted in later phases. 

More importantly, now more than ever, we must consider the implications of what it means to be a part of the Middlebury community: acting not just for ourselves and those around us, but also for those we have never met. For the staff that clean the spaces we use and serve our meals. For professors who return home to their families each day. For those in town who have welcomed us over the years. And in the case of a campus closure, for our fellow students who may not have homes to return to. 

Students must be responsible in their social and personal lives, but they can only do so when given the tools to succeed.  Ambiguity and a lack of clarity in official communications have enabled dangerous and reckless behavior. Notably, the college did not substantially differentiate protocols for this week — the time between Day Zero and Day Seven tests — from the remainder of Phase One, even though this stage of campus quarantine is significantly more consequential.

Students have also received nebulous mixed messages as the line between activities that are “permitted” and “suggested” continues to be blurred. For instance, students encountered conflicting information pertaining to regulations about visiting other student’s rooms. Ambiguity has also characterized other facets of campus life: visitors have sauntered through campus, assigned dining halls and times are going unenforced, and students report having not completed any of their daily health checks. Without distinct enforcement and clarity regarding supposed rules, it’s no wonder students have been left to make half-hearted guesses about serious health considerations. 

Therefore we urge the administration to reinforce explicit stances in order to uphold safe and consistent conduct. After all, it is impossible for any of us to make perfect choices without their leadership and transparency, which we hope they can consistently and definitively provide from here on out. 

Countless colleges and universities across the nation have risen only to quickly fall, leaving behind a wake of exposure and infection, not to mention the widespread financial catastrophe and emotional loss. Complacency is not an option, and we cannot pretend like Middlebury will be the inevitable exception. We have to fight for this, hard. 

 

Lily Laesch

Porter Bowman

Benjy Renton

Shaye Anis

Brinlea La Barge

Bochu Ding

Kenzo Okazaki

Emmanuel Tamrat

Ideal Dowling

Micaela Gayner

Ben Glass

Rebecca Amen

Hannah Bensen

Owen Mason-Hill

Ho June Rhee

Blaise Siefer

Sarah Fagan

Diana Diaz

Riley Board

James Finn

Sophie Hiland

Daleelah Saleh

Van Barth

Jane Earley

Sabrina Templeton

Em Ballou

Erin Kelly

Katelyn Mei

Cheryl Engmann

Elsa Korpi

Lucy Townend

Constance Gooding

Isabella Marcus

Shirley Mao

Annika Hoerner

Abigail Chang