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We’re back online, baby

Thoughts on omicron and a growing pandemic

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We're back online, baby

Happy new year and anniversary — it’s time for online school again (for a week).

The Dec. 21 announcement from President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Mark Richards that week one of winter quarter would be moving mostly online was definitely a downer on our first week of winter break. As much as I’m not looking forward to a rerun of my sophomore year, it’s probably for the best. (If I’m being honest, this past fall quarter probably should not have been as “back to normal” as it was.)

While I appreciate the extra week to drive or fly back into Seattle and snag a PCR test appointment before going back in person, we need more.

“Facilities at all three campuses will remain operational during this time — including housing, libraries, advising and student services — and research activities can continue in person,” Cauce and Richards wrote in their statement. “Buildings will remain largely open during work hours. We are committed to a return to in-person education and look forward to that happening on Monday, Jan. 10.”

So, classes are online, but everything else is business as usual. In my experience in fall quarter, as well as those of my peers (a small sample size, I admit), virtually all students were masked and focused on the lecture or discussion during class, only removing their mask to take a sip of water. However, places like dining halls and libraries (and the off-campus maskless parties), where you see a more careless approach to the potential spread of COVID-19, will simply continue to operate as usual, apparently.

Yes, I’m sure a week of online school will really do the trick and say “omicron be gone.”

Speaking of omicron, the United States is really out here being a record-breaker once more, hitting a new daily record number of cases just last Thursday — a striking 580,000, according to The New York Times. COVID-19 is spreading quickly in every state — yes, liberals, including our non-hillbilly Washington state — as well as at UW.

The coronavirus is something to be taken seriously, as it has been for nearly the last two years (Jesus, two years already?), and while it might seem like a last ditch effort for some, we really have to take this more seriously than we ever have.

“We also know how the virus spreads and have tools to protect ourselves and each other, including testing and high-quality masks, thereby reducing the potential for classroom or workplace transmission,” Cauce and Richards wrote in their statement.

This is the type of statement being parroted by many U.S. policymakers, organizations, and leaders. It’s the kind of sentiment that’s supposed to make us feel better about how bad the pandemic is right now because of our learned knowledge of the last year, PCR and rapid tests, and vaccinations, but, personally, it’s not all that reassuring for me.

If we have all these resources to help mitigate, and even end, the pandemic, why has Western leadership allowed it to grow this bad? It’s not reassuring at all when you have friends who have never contracted COVID-19 getting a positive test from their commute last week. It’s not reassuring when you know that this variant could have been prevented if countries like the United States were even a bit more willing to share vaccines with the Global South. I think this current moment can be afforded at least a little pessimism.

And even now, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement of shortening the quarantine time to five days — influenced by Delta Airlines lobbying — it’s a big, blatant tell that health and human life are not the priority here. In fact, it seems to be actively disregarded. Thanks, capitalism.

Many leaders aren’t even really making an effort to hide the fact that the priority is always economic recovery and getting people back to work. Meanwhile, people all over the globe are dying at increasing rates at the hands of the omicron variant. But it’s business as usual, of course, with human life and health being an expendable detail.

As this quarter begins, it is crucial for all of us to be committed to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 with social distancing, testing, masking, and legitimately staying home (from both the classroom and social gatherings) if feeling sick at all.

However, the end to the pandemic is not something that should be delegated to personal responsibility, despite how this idea has been forced on some, such as disabled communities. And despite the frustration and anger of some folks’ apparent winter break vacationing to Hawai’i and attendance at New Year’s Eve parties, the fact that the pandemic continues today in such strong force is a leadership failure.

Time (and coronavirus spread) will only tell if we’ll see UW leadership take a meaningful path forward in keeping us safe, or if our online week one is actually just bulls--- performance to save face.

Reach Opinion Editor Deborah Kwon at Twitter: @scoobydeeby

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