Editorial: Nearing normalcy

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It’s been a year and a half since the pandemic erupted. In that time, college life has been almost entirely online.

During this past academic year, most students attended classes via Zoom from the comfort of their beds. There was no need to change out of sweats when students knew they probably weren’t going to leave their homes. The active and restless days they once knew at college were lost.

As winter became spring, some light was shed. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout began in the U.S. In late February, Lehigh’s administration announced plans for a primarily “normal” fall semester, hinting that nearly all classes would be in person and an active campus life would return.

Fast forward to now, a few weeks into the fall semester. The administration’s plans from February have lived up to their promises. Campus life has seen some return to normalcy. 

With the implementation of a university-wide vaccination requirement, 94.1 percent of all students–undergraduate and graduate–are fully vaccinated. 91.5 percent of faculty and staff are fully vaccinated. 

At the state and national level, 49 percent of the total population in Pennsylvania are fully vaccinated and 53 percent of the U.S. population have received the shot. 

With most of the student population fully vaccinated, there was reason to infer that the virus wouldn’t be much of an issue this semester.

Queue the breakthrough of cases.

According to Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are currently over 200 active cases among students. And the case count is climbing on a day-to-day basis.

Out of fear that the influx of cases will only worsen, some instructors have already moved classes online. If infections continue at this rate, it’s telling of what could happen later in the semester, or even within the coming weeks.

Even with high vaccination rates, protection against COVID-19 isn’t 100 percent guaranteed. This pandemic isn’t over just yet.

There was the underlying assumption that things would be different this fall. All signs seemed to point towards a return to typical campus life.

While we seem to be inching closer towards normalcy, it would be ignorant to pretend that it’s already here. COVID-19 continues to be a major issue on our campus. By all means, precautions should still be taken. 

It’s up to each and every one of us, as individuals, to determine how to act. Only you know if you’re not feeling well or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. You’re responsible for monitoring your symptoms.

Only you know who you’ve been in close contact with that has tested positive, whether it’s through word of mouth or a health center notification. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Do what you think is right. If you’re sick or have symptoms, stay home and schedule a test. If you were in close contact with someone, monitor yourself and be prepared to lay low. 

With the majority of the student body vaccinated, situations like these are ambiguous. Acknowledge what may be something serious and take responsibility. Refusing to get tested and ignoring symptoms will only worsen the problem.

While it is your individual responsibility to take action, it’s not only about you, but our larger communities as well.

We interact with professors who have young kids who can’t get vaccinated yet. We interact with immunocompromised students, whose lives are at risk with the virus. We interact with the Southside Bethlehem community whenever we leave campus. 

Individual responsibility impacts not just yourself, but those around you. 

While we think we’re almost at the finish line of the pandemic, individual effort is crucial. It’s not a free-for-all just yet, and there’s certainly no wiggle room to be selfish. Take care of not only yourself, but those around you. 

We’re nearing normalcy, but for now, keep pushing through.

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