Just about half a year ago, Binghamton University students were sent home as a new virus came to the United States. We had heard of its effects in China and Italy, among other places, but it was still just “a bad flu” to us. I don’t blame anyone for thinking this at the time. I did too. I questioned why my dad asked me to wear a mask as we made our way home, where I would be staying with my immunocompromised mother and 81-year-old grandpa for the next five months in our house in Queens. The months that followed were nothing like I could have imagined.
Perhaps nothing says it better than this harrowing, now-famous New York Times front page that reads: “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss,” with as many of the thousands of names of the deceased that could fit sprawled out on the front page. Right now, we are almost at 200,000. But it’s the small print under this headline that really gets me: “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.”
It’s so easy to separate ourselves from these deaths and to think that it could never affect us, or that it’s something happening “somewhere else,” whether that’s New York City a few months ago or the Southern states now. But the truth is, this is real and could become very, very personal before we know it. While we are all healthy college students who ourselves may be okay, it’s not about us. This virus can easily devastate the lives of our immunocompromised family and friends or those of people we know if we have an outbreak on campus. And it doesn’t take that many students to do so; just look at SUNY Oneonta. I wish this weren’t true, but I have lived it and I will tell you — this is much, much more than some flu.
I lived at the heart of this outbreak myself and it was terrifying. I live right next to Queens Hospital Center, not too far from what was, at one point, considered the global epicenter of the outbreak. Elmhurst Hospital, where not only did the staff of this over-capacity hospital scramble to find respirators for patients, but where hospital staff members themselves were dying. I heard ambulances day and night. When I’d go outside to get air, elderly people who I would walk by would look at me with fear as they maximized the distance between us on the narrow sidewalk. In late April, a high school friend of mine lost her father.
To put this into perspective, imagine, for just a second, if BU had twice the amount of undergraduate students that it had. Now, imagine they all dropped dead. That is still less than the 32,629 people who have died in New York state from COVID-19 up until this date and counting.
To the people saying, “The school shouldn’t have brought us on to campus in the first place — what do they expect college students to do?,” I hear you. It’s not fair to only put this on individual responsibility while ignoring policies enacted by governments and universities that make outbreaks possible. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be on campus and there wouldn’t be the fear of packed college bars and frat houses. I agree. However, that’s not the case, as much as it should be. We are on campus and we have to accept that our actions have very real-world impacts, both to those on campus, the city of Binghamton and even our communities at home.
If you are a BU student reading this, please understand the significant implications of your actions. You may be okay. I may be okay. But the professors and staff members, at-risk dining hall workers, the 16.5 percent of the city of Binghamton’s population that are elderly citizens and any of your own family and friends who are immunocompromised that you can bring the virus home to if we have an outbreak on campus will not be okay.
It’s enough that I have to fear for my mother’s life with every health scare we get after she underwent a nearly deadly liver transplant last year, making her extremely vulnerable to this virus. I never thought I would be saying this, but please do not kill my mother and so many others.
This isn’t a fun semester or the one any of us wanted by any means. But what will be much, much less fun is having to have it on our collective conscience for the rest of our lives that people died because we wanted to party or didn’t feel like wearing our masks. Thankfully, this isn’t anywhere near the majority of students, and so far we have not had an outbreak thanks to so many of us working together and doing our best in such a difficult situation, but I felt the need to write this because I’ve seen how easily this virus spreads and the damage it can do. Letting our guard down once we get too bored on a weekend or for something like HalloWeekend or Santacon later in the semester could be detrimental — it doesn’t take that much to start an outbreak.
Six months ago, I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for not taking this seriously. We didn’t know any better. I didn’t know any better. Now, we know the reality of this virus. And if you don’t, please, take some time to research the reality of COVID-19. This is not a joke.
Max Kurant is a sophomore majoring in sociology.