March 12, 2020

KROLL | Is Leaving Better Than Staying?

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On Tuesday, the University made the right call. The COVID-19 spread is picking up speed, and social distancing is the right tool to curb it. For many upperclassmen, though, the question remains: Do we really need to leave? Despite President Pollack’s request that all Cornell students return to our permanent residences, plenty of upperclassmen seem intent on staying in Collegetown apartments.

While the idea of ‘senior month’ is attractive, we should temper our semi-enthusiasm with consideration for the implications of our choices. We’re likely in the preliminary stages of a pandemic. Whether we’d like them to or not, our actions count.

There are a couple articles circulating that seem to do a good job of summarizing our current situation. One of my favorites is The Atlantic’s Cancel Everything. The article first notes that cases of COVID-19 increase in an exponential fashion. Though we’ve only seen a little over a thousand domestic cases thus far, we’re probably about to see a lot more.

Second, the article talks about social distancing. This process involves limiting large-scale social gatherings in order to curb a disease’s spread. During the Influenza epidemic of 1918, for example, the health commissioner of St. Louis, Missouri essentially shut his city down. The Philadelphia health commissioner, on the other hand, refused to cancel a 200,000 person parade set to take place downtown. In the months that followed, the per capita fatality rate in Philadelphia was double that of St. Louis.

Shutting Cornell down achieves de-socialization. Our campus is fast-paced and large, vaguely comparable to the Philadelphia Parade. It’s conceivable that a single case of Coronavirus could create dozens more, even before the first case was detected. Our healthcare system could become overburdened, and the situation could spiral out of control.

I still don’t want to go home. I don’t think it’s necessarily important that I do, either.

How does living in collegetown create a larger public health risk than living … anywhere else? Unless you’re planning on spending the next couple months in full quarantine, small-scale social interaction is nearly inevitable. I practically live in my hometown’s Whole Foods. Frankly, that’s a more active social environment than anything collegetown has to offer. Having already cancelled classes and events, I question how much additional utility our collective exit would generate.

Also, for those who share permanent residences with parents, grandparents, young children, immunocompromised individuals or otherwise vulnerable people, wouldn’t returning home create a more substantial risk? As Coronavirus spreads exponentially, doesn’t each additional person in a household increase that household’s chance of contraction?

If the situation in the US becomes dire, more stringent actions will be taken. Loco could be temporarily shuttered, god forbid. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict whether Ithaca will pose a more or less significant risk than most hometowns. For students from the Bay Area, Westchester or heavily affected foreign regions, Ithaca may seem less risky.

Though I’m no expert on the subject, I struggle to see a strong reason to return home. I do, however, see strong reasons to stay in Ithaca. Most importantly, I want a senior spring. I’ve loved my time at Cornell and the communities I’ve found on campus. I learned how to enjoy myself here. Having two weeks to say goodbye feels like an odd dream.

I’m optimistic, though. Having talked to many upperclassmen who also plan on staying in Ithaca, I don’t think I’ll be living in isolation. It’s true we won’t have sporting events, real classes, clubs, date nights, formals or any of the other parts of Cornell we’ve come to love, but we’ll still be here. Maybe the transition from our events-based social life into a more intimate scene will do us good.

We should still try to avoid bars and larger parties. Moderately sized gatherings with friends can be just as fun and much less risky. Though I think it’s possible to balance our desire for a senior spring with our responsibility to mitigate risk, we actually need to hold ourselves accountable. Maybe storming fishbowls isn’t the best idea.

Similarly, those who leave Ithaca for spring break should not return. If you want a senior spring, commit to it. Stay for the long haul. Don’t put others at risk.

After the announcement was released on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but reminisce on my time at Cornell. Spending my first night in a sleeping bag on the arts quad. Lunch on the A.D. White statue talking about disappointing sex lives and promising exam curves. The first time I met my closest friends. That one time I dropped an entire quad-shot mocha on the counter at Zeus. Having to wrap all of that up in two weeks is unimaginable. I’m not leaving.

We won’t have the senior spring any of us expected. But we still have the chance to make it memorable. Let senior month commence.


Julian Kroll is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Losing My Edge runs every other Wednesday this semester.