By Alaina Perdon and Victoria Gill-Gomez
Elm Staff Writer and News Editor
This summer, we saw people across the country come together to support the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA+ rights movements. Yet, even with this newfound unity, American individualism still plagues our country.
Selfishness has prolonged the COVID-19 pandemic’s presence in the United States. By attending large social gatherings, exploiting restaurant policies, and not wearing masks properly, or at all, Americans are continually choosing to prioritize their self-interests over the health and safety of their community.
Health justice is a major but oft-overlooked component of social justice. When advocating for social justice, it is not enough to regurgitate slogans and hashtags within the echo chamber of social media. To be a proper ally to marginalized communities, those in privileged positions must educate themselves on the impacts of COVID-19 on minority and low-income communities.
According to emerging research published by The Lancet, African Americans are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 as white Americans, while Asian-Americans are 1.5 times more likely. Often lacking proper access to medical care, these individuals are also at a higher risk of dying from the virus.
As much as we would all enjoy regaining a sense of normalcy in our small college along the river, the administration’s decision to allow any student who wants to return to campus for the spring semester — driven by previous backlash from parents, students, and alumni from prior decisions — is a dangerous mistake. Students who decide to live on campus in the spring are fully at fault as well.
Those capable of following social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations without compromising their livelihood should do so to protect those who do not have this luxury. While working or studying from home feels inconvenient, your selfish wants for a sense of normalcy or closure will drive a rise of COVID-19 numbers.
Chestertown is widely regarded as a retirement town. According to the 2019 Census, around 30% of the 5,051 residents are people over the age of 65. Another 20% of town citizens continue to live in poverty.
These Census percentages make up those who are the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Oct. 1 examined the needs and worries of low-income homes and how they are affected by COVID-19.
The results of the survey show that 93.5% of respondents reported food insecurity, which is a 22% increase since fall 2019. Overall, 76.3% reported worries concerning financial stability; 42.5% about employment.
This pandemic is a greater source of stress if individuals need to think about the possibility of choosing to worry more about hospital bills instead of putting food on the table or having heat that month.
These low-income populations also make up most of the overlooked portion of essential workers. While going to work is a decision, it is one that comes with grave consequences for some people. Not all work can be done online, but when it can be, why not take advantage of it?
To potentially bring 800 college students back — though WC has said they could accommodate the whole student body, it is likely they made this decision knowing that many students would not return — would mean over 800 potential spreaders. While there are already some students living in town, it has been proven by a recent lacrosse party that a portion of the student body are unwilling to do the necessary work to keep others safe.
In addition, Chestertown’s hospital, located behind Queen Anne’s House, has a very limited number of beds, as anyone who has visited knows, and risks sending people to be treated outside of town, causing further spread. Currently, according to the section of their website dedicated to COVID-19 information, there are testing centers outside of Chestertown and not in the hospital.
According to the CDC, there are 198.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people aged 65 to 74; 329.3 in those aged 75 to 84. Kent County has lost several dedicated members of the community due to the pandemic already within the county’s 468 cases, reported by The New York Times as of Nov. 30.
On top of this, there have been several WC students who tested positive for COVID-19. This information has not been relayed to Chestertown leaders in a timely manner. Though the town and the College are separate entities, this lack of communication signals more mistakes for the future that no one can afford to take the hit for.
While it is exciting to hear of low infection rates anywhere in the world, people cannot just spring back into their once-normal routines right away.
The students and staff inhabit Chestertown for around eight months out of the year; we are guests within an already established community with no right over its autonomy. The citizens of Chestertown should not be forced to face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 so we may socialize with our peers again.
We have seen from other schools that returned to on-campus living this fall that COVID-19 can spread rapidly throughout college communities: there have been more than 321,000 confirmed cases at over 1,700 colleges in the U.S., according to a New York Times article updated Nov. 19. Over 65 colleges have reported at least 1,000 cases over the course of the pandemic, and more than 540 colleges have reported at least 100 cases each.
Anyone returning to campus this spring should be prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of safety, and all members of the WC campus community must hold one another accountable for this.
The early stages of quarantine, a time for people to find other interests and prioritize self-care, also included a developed mindset to evolve and adapt to these current circumstances. This should not be addressed as the “new normal,” but adapting does come with sacrifices. In the case of many students — primarily seniors completing thesis projects — that means figuring out alternatives in achieving academic goals.
No one cohort of students is more worthy of the right to be on campus; we have all experienced loss in some form as a result of this drastic change to our lives as college students. But you cannot pack the fraternity houses on Friday nights, nor host ten-person study dates at the tables in Evergrain. You cannot undo the progress this town has made throughout the course of the pandemic because you want to return to normal.
Featured Photo caption: After receiving feedback from Washington College students and their families, the WC Contingency Planning Group will allow all students to return to campus in the Spring 2021 semester. Photo by Izze Rios.