The eventuality of alert level red seemed impossible to me — I figured that the highest alert level was merely a drastic measure that we would never actually have to use. Last semester especially, with vaccinations widely available and the recent arrival of booster shots, I had not honestly given consideration to anything but in-person final exams, seeing as the entire instructional semester maintained in-person activities successfully. When the time came, though, I knew Cornell would sound the red alert alarms before the University’s COVID tracking dashboard even reported the case numbers. In a matter of a few days, an alarming percentage of my close friends were either confirmed positive for COVID or had been told they were in recent contact with someone who had contracted the virus.
It wasn’t hard to extrapolate how the spread had happened — in the traditional rush to jam end-of-semester celebrations in before finals, there was an evident assumption that we would be okay and well within the range of cases that would allow us to end the semester normally. Well, a new, drastically more contagious variant of the virus had other thoughts.