The COVID-19 outbreak spurred a tsunami of appreciation for “essential workers,” especially healthcare workers. When Cornell first launched its testing program, the treatment of testing site workers was similarly warm. When working as a registration observer (a.k.a. the person behind the plexiglass in the yellow trash bag) in the fall of 2020, I received many thank yous from strangers. I felt a lot of pride as Cornell championed the program and its successes. Come fall of 2021, it feels different this time around. The equipment is understandably a little less shiny and new and the workforce, like much of the population at this point, is beginning to feel the fatigue of the prolonged pandemic. The treatment of the program has also changed. People have walked into the site unmasked and I definitely have not received a single thank you from someone being tested despite Cornell continuing to hold us up as a cornerstone of the ability to hold in-person classes. Students are less likely to adhere to the date and time of their appointments, to the point where it’s in bold on the Daily Check website. Some people act shocked that they even have to make an appointment. We end up with long lines and stressful periods only to be followed by lulls because the timing distribution inherent to signing up is ignored. I don’t have an ego about the whole thing — after all I am essentially being paid to sit and watch you elaborately pick your nose — but I do find it an interesting manifestation of the ever-evolving attitude(s) towards COVID-19.
Campus today feels the closest to pre-pandemic times that it has since spring 2020 — now, there’s just the pesky issue of fitting in your COVID test on an already busy day. Willard Straight has been feeling the heat of this mindset, as they receive far more traffic (evidenced by the long lines) than other sites such as Bartels Hall. Even from the University, I feel a change. While there are still science-informed guidelines and an obscene amount of money being shelled out to fund the processing of COVID-19 tests, that money doesn’t seem to reach all the way down to the people working minimum wage to keep the in-person semester afloat. Despite a 75 cent per hour raise being offered as a carrot for some student workers, there is still a lot of stress around staffing. People don’t show up for their shifts without consequences, and those that have poured their blood, sweat and tears into this program are understandably drained. The heat of the summer and PPE don’t mix well and the giant, rickety fans we’ve been provided with don’t do much more than make it even harder for us to hear people say their netIDs. I’m not mad at Cornell, or Cornell students. We’re all tired. We want a fully normal campus, not a semi-normal campus buoyed by tests and daily checks.
The American Hospital Association website cites a 2021 study that found nearly 30 percent of those working in healthcare are considering leaving the field and others are at least considering reducing their hours. At least the unbearable heat will break with the inevitable arrival of another crisp Ithaca fall. But we’re also at a new turning point, finding a new “new normal” if you will. A time when we’re seemingly half out of the pandemic (vaccines, in-person classes, the return of indoor dining and other services) and yet half within it raging on (the Delta Variant, reaching code yellow within days of classes starting and many students in quarantine). I don’t enjoy getting tested any more than you, but let’s embrace where we’re at. We still need to get tested and follow the necessary guidelines — and be respectful of others in the process — if we want the rest of the more “back-to-normal” perks of an in-person campus.
Emma Smith is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They can be reached at email@example.com. Emmpathy appears every other Wednesday this semester.