Regarding the loss of herd immunity

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I was lucky that I didn’t have any classes on that Tuesday morning. 

I had a paper for my economics class due that morning in the winter of 2020. The essay prompted us to share our personal and economic reactions and predictions about the new virus that had just entered the United States. I had swiftly typed up my paper the night before, so confident in my answers that I had even printed it out. 

However, I woke up Tuesday morning only to find that my predictions of the future were flipped upside-down overnight. My response to whether or not I thought Lawrence would see any changes to its Spring Term due to the virus was particularly short-lived. The night before, I was sure that, at most, we might have to wear masks for a couple of weeks Spring Term. But by Tuesday morning, my friend’s university had shut down for the year. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about my response. I was lucky that I didn’t have any classes on that Tuesday morning—since the virus had changed so quickly, I had to rewrite my entire paper before turning it in. Just a few days later, I, like many other students across the United States, was packing my bags to go home. 

It’s easy to forget how quickly the virus and its life-altering impacts snuck up on us. The restrictions of COVID-19 have been normalized for over a year now. Long gone is the element of surprise. We’ve become used to having our hopes let down as a few weeks became a few months. Again as that stretched into a year. Quite possibly, yet another wave of disappointment is around the corner. 

Twitter users, news readers and TikTokers alike have probably stumbled across the recently published New York Times article about herd immunity. Or rather, a lack thereof. Once seen as an exit ticket out of this pandemic, the article states that the consensus among scientists and health experts is that the herd immunity threshold “is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.” Instead, “the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come.” This has, justifiably, caused an uproar of reactions globally. Amongst a wave of great vaccine news, an article informing us that the vaccination rates are too low and the variation rates are too high is beyond difficult news to receive. 

While we have had over a year to let our new reality settle in, it is important to remember that we need to let ourselves feel the emotions that come with the never-ending changes and setbacks that come our way. Although the pandemic has been one ongoing situation, it’s consisted of unpredictable twists and turns along the way that impact our lives over and over again. 

Without downplaying what it means to lose another person, the pandemic has caused a different type of loss, one that can mimic grief in a way. The loss of normalcy, the loss of expected futures, the loss of experiences and many other aspects of life. With this loss, it is natural for one to feel a whole range of emotions and thoughts before accepting reality. This is especially so, given that we are still in the midst of this ongoing loss; we will only continue to feel these things each day that goes by. 

Like many other college students, I hoped that social distancing during the spring of 2020 would be enough for a normal 2020-2021 school year. When that didn’t happen, we hoped that a vaccination would be found and distributed quickly enough for a normal second half of the year. Now that this school year has come and gone, we are simply hoping for a normal one next year. 

While Lawrence has revealed their intentions to return to in-person living and learning next school year, this article serves as a grave reminder that, although we are making great strides to make our way back to regularity, the future remains unclear. With this realization comes another wave of mourning for the expected experiences we have lost and will continue to lose. 

For myself and other students who will not be graduating this year, this looks like an awareness that the rest of our college experience–in fact, the majority of our overall experience–won’t be going back to normal. That there will not just be a term or a year of could-have-beens, but in fact, that will be our overall college experience. These range from thinking of the classmates you might have become friends with had they been more than a black rectangle on your screen, to thinking about what study abroad would have been like. Although I have high hopes that, despite what this article states, we will be able to still have in-person learning and living next year, I am still coming to terms with the fact that it almost certainly won’t be the in-person living and learning I know. It’s accepting that the virus will still exist and will likely impact the rest of my experience here, even if not so drastically as before. It’s feeling the clock ticking and realizing how much time I spent waiting to go back to normal, only to realize that it’s not coming and my college experience is happening now. 

As we continue to see more news about uncertain futures, it is important to let yourself mourn what you have lost, both the big and little things. In the process, refrain from comparing your situation to others, as your own personal experience matters, no matter how it may compare to the “worse” experience of others. No matter how familiar the pandemic has become to us, don’t forget that this abnormal experience came out of nowhere and that you have every right to feel whatever it is that you do. Try speaking with friends or others to work through these feelings, as you might find that more people relate to you than you think. Overall, remember to give yourself time and patience as you grieve these unexpected losses.