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Monday, May 23, 2022

What does it mean to live with Covid-19?

As we start to enter our third year of the pandemic, we’ve all encountered a new level of burnout. Though it perhaps once seemed like grab-and-go dining and class Zoom links would become a thing of the past after the vaccine rollout — here we are. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Covid-19 is not going to disappear. We’ve heard again and again that it’s time to start “living” with Covid-19, now that eradication seems to be eluding us. But we still don’t really know exactly what this means.

For some, it means returning to pre-pandemic routines. Others are more cautious than ever. If you’re confused on what to do, how to act, and what risk management even means anymore, we hear you. We're all confused and adrift too. While the goal used to be to keep campus free of infection, this aim has now shifted to keeping case counts below 200 and not overwhelming existing systems all at once. 

Our feelings, too, have evolved. Many of our editors expressed that their fears around getting Covid-19 were not about being sick, but rather the inconvenience isolation would pose for their daily routines and the toll it could take on their mental health. This tone of inconvenience seems to epitomize student anxieties, with many of us believing we are going to test positive eventually — if we haven’t already. 

For many, concerns about a disrupted, backlogged schedule have overshadowed those of health risks. Some students are hoping — or even trying — to get Covid-19 at a strategic and less consequential time, rather than avoid it altogether. It is clear that in order to “live with Covid” we must acknowledge the paradigm shift so many of us have undergone — in which many students would choose to be physically ill and isolated for 10 days at home than miss just a few days of life at Middlebury. 

The rhetoric of inconvenience is deeply intertwined with the college’s own guidelines. Since the announcement of the five day isolation period, students might feel more comfortable engaging in riskier behaviors, knowing that if infected, this disruption may not be as prolonged. 

Living with Covid-19, however, also means recognizing that contracting the virus is much more than an inconvenience for some. For those who are immunocompromised, getting sick with Covid-19 will likely never be just an irritating hindrance. As our behavior surrounding the pandemic continues to evolve, it is critical to acknowledge and respect the spectrum of risk tolerance and the potential vulnerability of our fellow community members. 

Yes, it seems like a lot of things are now up to interpretation. The way we choose to gather or practice masking are no longer as clear-cut as they may once have been. But these decisions, muddled as they may be, are not made in a vacuum. So we hope that we all can prioritize what’s most important to us and the people around us. Maybe that’s your thesis advisor who has two unvaccinated kids, or your lab partner who doesn't want to miss her dance show. Perhaps that’s your co-worker who wants to visit her grandparents next weekend, or your suitemate who wants to finish out his last basketball season. 

We don’t think living with Covid-19 is about being perfect. Now more than ever, it’s impossible to extinguish every possible liability that could come our way. As a board, we certainly don’t have all the answers — we might not even have any. But as we wait for these answers, suspended in this strange, familiar-yet-different, in-between space, we hope that we can tackle these ongoing changes as a community. A community that is OK with admitting mistakes and accepting a variety of approaches, a community that can still seek out grace and fulfillment even as we continue to navigate each new unknown.