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The Scarlet & Black

Gales’ Gevalt: COVID-19


By David Gales

A couple of weeks ago, some Grinnell students were temporarily quarantined in accordance with CDC guidelines after returning from China. A lot of people I talked to about it felt like the steps taken were too drastic, and that the likelihood of the students actually having coronavirus was low enough that Grinnell shouldn’t have done what they did.

But this piece isn’t actually about that incident, at least not directly. While I understand both perspectives in regard to the quarantine that occurred, I want to focus more on what’s going on with the COVID-19 virus now and how it is (and should be) impacting the College community.

As I sit here writing this piece, COVID-19 has been deemed a public health crisis by the World Health Organization and has had outbreaks in countries all over the world. The rate at which the virus is spreading appears to be increasing due to the coronavirus’ contagious nature. More regions in Europe and Asia are being locked down every day, and the CDC announced this week that America should be bracing for impact as well. In short, many people are already regarding COVID-19 as a pandemic, and many more expect it to reach that classification quite soon. Like, within the next few weeks.

You know, before spring break.

And therein lies the problem, my friends. I can’t pretend I know all of the campus happenings at all times, nor can I claim that I know even a slim fraction of Grinnellians’ spring break plans, but I do know of a few. For example, I know that the Grinnell Singers are planning on a tour in Europe, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were more Grinnell-sponsored international trips happening too.

My roommate is in Singers, and he told me that when he asked if they were going to be provided with facemasks on the plane or any type of protection against the virus, the response he got was that they hadn’t really thought about it. While facemasks don’t actually help to prevent you from catching it while you’re on a plane (or in most other situations), the answer “We hadn’t considered it” isn’t exactly the most comforting response one can receive.

Even if the areas that students are going to travel to aren’t infected right now, that could change in a matter of days, much less a matter of weeks. COVID-19 spreads fast, and its incubation period is thought to be 10-14 days, meaning that if someone in Singers got it while on tour, for example, they probably wouldn’t start exhibiting symptoms until they got back to Grinnell. And, even more worryingly, travel is starting to shut down in Europe as more areas are quarantined. It’s entirely possible that the tour will be canceled when flights to the areas in Europe that Grinnellians are being flown to are cut off, or that the group will be stuck in Europe with no easy way back.

I’m not saying that this is a given. I’m not even arguing for Singers to call off the trip, in all honesty. I just think that these are factors people need to be considering, and it doesn’t seem like that’s what’s going on right now. Shouldn’t there at least be some semblance of discussion around it? Or a meeting to alleviate worry in the student population?

It just seems like a bit of an oversight to me. An easily correctable oversight, but an oversight, nonetheless. And while COVID-19 isn’t particularly lethal, I still would prefer for Grinnell to think about it in a wider perspective: in how it’s affecting other countries and how it will persist and spread in the coming weeks and months. Better safe than sorry.

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