Contagion

Earlier this year, I read reports of a novel virus in China. It was called COVID-19, a new form of the human coronavirus, and it was spreading rapidly across the Wuhan province. I saw the stories of people sheltering in place and being forced into a massive quarantine in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus. However, I didn’t pay attention. I lead a busy life. I’m a full time student, a part-time worker, and the Vice President of the oldest LGBTQ student organization at an HBCU. I was working on a campaign for Howard University’s Student Association. I was hosting a weekly “family dinner” for a few of my closest friends. I’m working on my honors undergraduate thesis and in the process of applying to PhD programs in the fall. My girlfriend and I just passed the six month mark in our relationship. I was searching for an office campus apartment with my college best friend. My life was far too busy to worry about a novel virus half a world away. How wrong I was.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom, 700 miles from my beloved Howard University, all because of the COVID-19. On March 9th, we received communication that Howard would transition to online courses after spring break, and that we would resume in-person instruction on April 6th. All events were cancelled until the end of the semester, and we were not to gather in groups more than 50. In the following 36 hours, we were told that online classes would continue through the end of the semester, to leave campus by March 22nd, and that all graduation ceremonies were cancelled. If we had already left campus for spring break, we were not to return and the office of ResLife would communicate when we could pick up our personal belongings. 

The weekend before I left the university, I was forced to pack up my room, move everything into storage, and say goodbye to my friends that I consider my family, including my girlfriend. The amount of distress I have experienced in the last week is nothing compared to the stress that is to come. Some of the same friends I was forced to say goodbye to will not have a graduation ceremony to celebrate the completion of their undergraduate degrees. Some of my friends were forced to go home to states like Washington and New York with high infection rates. Some had to end their study abroad early, and others have no home to return to. This is the story of a million college students across the country, and we all want someone to blame because we’re all sad, angry, and disgruntled. Trump, our universities, China, people who won’t stay home, anyone. As I sit in my childhood bedroom, I pray that this will pass and I’ll be able to resume life. I desperately want to get back to my friends and my university. I want to be able to sit in a restaurant at the end of a week and eat a meal with my girlfriend. Whether it made sense to force millions of college students to move across the country when we’re supposed to be socially distancing ourselves is up for debate, but it’s undeniable that COVID-19 stole the remainder of our semester and upended our lives. 

Now that spring break is over, the reality of having to juggle my classes at home is setting in. A million questions are swirling in my head and no one can answer them. All this uncertainty is leaking into every aspect of my life, and no one can reassure me – or anyone else for that matter – that everything will be okay. The cracks in capitalism are showing as hospitals are overrun and grocery store shelves are empty. Industries may collapse, and celebrities are singing Imagine by John Lennon instead of using their wealth to help. The President is spreading misinformation and downplayed the pandemic for months, and new cases of the virus are growing exponentially. We are living in uncertain times. The only certainty right now is that nothing will be the same after this pandemic is brought under control. Maybe we’ll have a vaccine relatively soon. Maybe we will see a radical reduction in cases by May. Maybe this is the beginning of Revelations and Pestilence is riding on out his pale horse. We are only certain of the uncertainty. 

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