The Flat Hat responds to COVID-19’s ramifications for College students

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Since the College of William and Mary first announced plans to suspend in person classes March 11 in response to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, some students have claimed that the extended spring break and two weeks of at-home learning are akin to a “coronacation.” A few have gone even further, declaring their intent to take advantage of cheap airfare and low tourist traffic volumes by taking impromptu trips — both around their communities and around the world.

These actions are unwise, insensitive and self-centered, especially given the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that individuals maximize “social distancing” in the weeks to come to delay COVID-19’s inevitable spread throughout the country. As of March 17, all Americans, young and old, are being advised by the federal government to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people as part of this broad strategy to combat the novel virus; bars, restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, churches, malls and a plethora of other public spaces are shutting their doors for the foreseeable future.

This is with good reason as well. Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States, has estimated that between 75 to 150 million Americans will contract COVID-19 before all is said and done. Schools and universities are prematurely ending their semester or shifting courses online. National borders are even closing, as exemplified in our own government’s temporary ban on most European Union citizens entering the United States, alongside other countries such as Israel, Canada, Spain and Germany who are completely closing their own nations off to non-citizens and non-residents.

“These severe measures, the likes of which are almost unparalleled in modern health crises, are only undertaken in times of turmoil.”

These severe measures, the likes of which are almost unparalleled in modern health crises, are only undertaken in times of turmoil. COVID-19’s ramifications may be slightly less dire for young college students like ourselves, but to ignore this situation — whether it be through going out to a crowded bar or taking a spontaneous, non-essential flight without taking necessary precautions — indicates a sincere lack of empathetic concern for other people. The virus’s long incubation period means that individuals can be asymptomatic carriers for COVID-19 for up to two weeks, so even if we feel healthy, we may be inadvertently passing on the disease to countless others around us. News flash: actions can be lethal even if exercised without malice.

Beyond the measures we can take as individuals to combat the novel virus, we also implore the College to be more forthcoming with its intentions surrounding study abroad programs, arguably the most visible way that students our age interact with peers around the world. Though the College has taken decisive action with students formerly stationed in Italy, the People’s Republic of China and in the Republic of Korea, the reality is that this gesture has now been rendered obsolete. In the weeks since recalling students in those three countries, the situation has now become more severe as the World Health Organization officially moved to declare COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic.

Unlike other universities around the country that have decisively cancelled both spring and summer study abroad programs when it became apparent that the coronavirus would hinder the successful completion of said programs, the College has been slow to declare the inevitable in its approach towards summer opportunities abroad — an act that is undesirable to both the students and their families who are being strung along to believe that their upcoming study away programs are still possible. Similarly, we encourage the College to consider providing online alternatives in the summer for students who had expected to fulfil their COLL 300 requirement abroad.

“Unlike other universities around the country that have decisively cancelled both spring and summer study abroad programs … the college has been slow to declare the inevitable.”

The most important role that the College must take on during this time is that of leadership and clarity so that students and staff alike are not left confused or without direction. The College decided to switch to remote teaching at about the same time as other Virginia universities, so that is not really an issue about which students can rightfully complain. However, by the time the COVID-19 update went live on the website, the information was still being updated and changed.

Those who accessed the website immediately saw that the College planned to recommence classes April 15. Some of those students immediately turned to the Facebook meme page, “Swampy Memes for Twampy Teens,” to discuss the news. Replies started to come in that their computer said something different, and sure enough, when those first students refreshed the page, the announcement now read that classes would remain online until April 3.

It may not seem that important that the College updated the website after initially posting it, but it temporarily conveyed the message to students and staff that the administration is unsure in making announcements that should, in theory, be well-thought out for everyone’s well being. Not only did this initial mistake spread temporary misinformation and cause confusion, but it also makes students question why the College’s administration is making those decisions and how seriously to take them.

The College is experiencing a chaotic adjustment period right now, and that is completely understandable. The world is experiencing a pandemic and it makes sense that business will not be running as usual. We commend them for their regular updates to students, faculty and staff conveying intricacies of an evolving situation. But as we prepare to embark on an uncharted journey characterized by social distancing and hand sanitizer, the College should continue to speak out, loudly and clearly, in declaratively supplementing those efforts by being candid with the campus community about how the next few months will look.

The staff editorial represents the official opinion of The Flat Hat. The editorial board, which is elected by The Flat Hat’s section editors and executive staff, consists of Gavin Aquin Hernández, Zoe Beardsley, Ethan Brown, Chloe Folmar and Alyssa Slovin. Email fhopinions@gmail.com.