When I got Millikin’s email detailing their decision to move to online classes for the rest of the semester, it felt like the end of the world.
I know that’s a dramatic thing to say. But it seems like we’re in pretty a dramatic situation.
COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, has spread across the globe. The respiratory disease causes flu-like symptoms, and it is especially dangerous to immunocompromised people and the elderly. The virus has prompted panic as people try to figure out how to protect themselves.
Several colleges and universities have altered their plans in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. But even so, Millikin’s decision still shocked me.
As I texted my friends, all of us confused and concerned, I slowly started to piece together what this decision means. And the nervousness that I’ve been keeping at bay throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic finally settled in my chest.
Up until now, I’ve been calm and collected. I nodded along as people compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. I reassured people and told them not to panic. I dutifully wiped down the doorknobs in my apartment and counted to 20 as I washed my hands, all while telling myself that my precautions were probably a good idea, if a bit of an overreaction.
But in the last few days, it seems like everything has worsened. With every hour, there’s a new unprecedented—and bizarre—announcement. Broadway theaters have closed. MLB spring training has been canceled. And now Millikin, my second home, is telling me that I’m not safe there, that I need to stay away to protect myself.
Is that decision an overreaction? Just like my diligent handwashing, I suddenly don’t think so. It’s safer, and it will hopefully help slow the spread of the virus so that we can protect our immunocompromised and elderly loved ones. I expect that a lot of colleges and universities will move to online classes soon.
But it’s sad to know that Millikin’s campus will be virtually empty over the next few months, and I sympathize with the seniors who are leaving Millikin under these strange terms.
In my shock following the announcement, I’ve been caught up in tiny details that seem overwhelming. When will I return to Decatur to get my belongings? How will I finish class assignments when I don’t have the software I need? What effects will this have on my plans to graduate in four years?
But I’m realizing that those relatively unimportant questions are masking genuine concerns. It’s easier to worry about credit hours instead of the uncertainty of when I’ll see my friends again.
Yeah, okay, I’ll finally admit it: I’m scared. I’m scared for my friends who are frantically trying to get home from Europe before Trump’s travel ban takes effect on March 13. I’m scared for the people in my life who struggle with their health. Mostly, I’m scared because this seems way bigger than I initially thought, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Millikin’s decision illustrated that uncertainty. It’s easier to ignore bad news when you’re watching the headlines scroll on TV. It becomes more immediate when there’s a significant disruption in your life that you didn’t expect.
But, contrary to the constant bad information that we’re receiving, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. For one, cases are decreasing in China. This is where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was first identified last year. According to Newsweek, almost 70,000 people have recovered from the illness.
That’s good news. And on a more local level, I already see Millikin coming together as a community.
As I scrolled through Facebook, searching for more information, I saw posts from students who are understandably heartbroken. They’re as uncertain and nervous as I am, and they’re upset that they won’t be in classes with their classmates and professors for the next several months.
But even though it was upsetting, I found these posts oddly reassuring. In a weird way, it’s nice to know that my sadness isn’t just mine. Millikin’s entire student body is in this together.
But more importantly, I saw students comforting each other. Reassuring each other. Sending dog pictures and good energy and offers of help.
In a day filled with bad news and scary statistics, that was one of the brightest spots. And it gave me perspective. This is not the end of the world. Yes, the disease is new. Its effects are far-reaching and nerve-wracking. But we’re dealing with it together as a university.
Millikin is full of people who constantly impress me. We care about what we’re doing. We care about each other. And we’ll get through this, even though it’s scary right now.
I’ll see you in a few months, Millikin. And in the meantime, thank you for giving me hope.