Low on-campus COVID-19 rates encourage feelings of optimism for students

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the College of William and Mary’s mistakes with regard to operating in the COVID-19 pandemic. To be clear, there are plenty of things that we, as a community, should address. As students — and in some cases taxpayers — contributing hefty amounts in tuition, we should be open to pointing out the College’s errors when we see them. At the same time, though, it is important for us as the College community to acknowledge successes where we can. 

At the beginning of September, a COVID-19 outbreak at James Madison University led to the decision to send their on-campus population of over 20,000 home, as all instruction moved online. 

In Blacksburg, the number of positive cases at Virginia Tech have recently climbed up to about 1,000. Closer to home, and less dramatically, one percent of on-campus students at Virginia Commonwealth University have been reported as having “active cases” of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, here at the College, our number of on-campus positive cases reached the teens this weekend — of the almost 7,500 students tested, .18 percent received a positive result. That number is one-fifth of one percent of the student population at the College. Just looking at these numbers should give us all some relief, as well as some hope for the rest of the semester. 

Of course, our relatively low numbers do not justify disregarding any of the rules the College has put in place. Practices like social distancing and mask-wearing are what is protecting the other 99 percent of us from contracting COVID-19, and by extension protecting our families when we return home and even people we’re walking past at the grocery store in Williamsburg. Low COVID-19 rates do not constitute an excuse to be thoughtless or inconsiderate. In addition, for all I know, we could be at the precipice of a COVID-19 outbreak. Just because positive tests are scarce now does not mean they will stay that way. 

The kind of thinking that I am encouraging is that it is okay — and actually healthy — to acknowledge the good in the midst of this pandemic. As much as I believe in the importance of fair criticism, I do not believe in a culture of anger, fear and raw pessimism. Engaging in a more realistic view of how drastically the pandemic is affecting people’s lives, coupled with a serious evaluation of how we can do better, is vital to the wellbeing of our community. On the other hand, infighting with alumni and promoting  “doom and gloom” outlook on platforms such as the Facebook group “Swampy Memes for TWAMPy Teens” can be detrimental to the mental and emotional health of both the people engaging in negativity and everyone around them. 

Instead, we at the College should try to foster a sense of gratitude for the safety we have enjoyed thus far, as well as encourage a feeling of determination for continued preservation of that safety. As everyone knows, we are all being affected by the pandemic, whether it be through the death of a family member, deepened or new mental health struggles or even getting sick ourselves. Persistent pessimism will not solve these issues, but trying to come together in a spirit of resolve will definitely help. The College has done a good job so far, and we can be hopeful that that trend will continue.

Email Chloe Folmar at 

csfolmar@email.wm.edu.