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An Open Letter to Post-Pandemic America

To Whom It May Concern,

            To say the time I’m living in now is strange would be an understatement. Two months ago, I was on campus at UD attending classes, finally bonding with my roommate, and feeling the most comfortable I have all school year. I was excited to finish my first year of college and counting down to spring break on the whiteboard that sat on my desk. Unfortunately, the universe or whoever is in charge out there had different plans. Right now, I am back in Sussex County sitting at a desk my mom bought me last month to make my bedroom better suited for school. There is a handwritten class schedule hanging on the outside of my door in order to keep family members out when I’m in a Zoom lecture. This is the reality of being a college student during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It might not seem too bad on the surface, but just below lies a wide variety of difficulties and stressors that I get to pick and choose from every day.

            Receiving the initial email wasn’t much of a shock to me. I had seen multiple sources suggest that the first confirmed COVID-19 case was connected to the university minutes before, so I knew they had to act sooner rather than later. But within just a few hours, the general tone on campus shifted. I don’t think I’ve ever opened so many emails in such a short period. Immediately, classes for the rest of the week were canceled and moved online for the semester. I remember sitting in the dining hall with my friends and constantly refreshing the UD updates page for clarity. If classes were online, did that mean we had to stay home after spring break? If we went home, would we have our money refunded? How prepared were our professors to switch to remote instruction? These questions weren’t answered until two days later. Friday the 13th. How appropriate is that?

            I was trying to figure out when my mom should come to pick me up and planned to start packing on Saturday. My roommate left the day before with what she needed for a short break and my friend Kaley was already halfway through her 8-hour drive to Virginia when an email came through at 3:25 pm. Reading the words “…closing all UD owned and/or operated student housing facilities through the end of the semester” was like a punch in the stomach. Just like that, our spring semester was over, and we’d have to start from square one in the fall. A good portion of residents from my hall had already left and now they had to make the trip back to retrieve anything they left in their rooms with the mindset that we were coming back after “spring break” that didn’t feel much like a break anymore. I was lucky that I decided to wait until Sunday to leave, giving me time to fully pack up my belongings so I didn’t have to come back.

            By Sunday, the reality of the situation started to sink in. All of my friends had left, and it felt like I was the only one in the residence hall besides my RA. My roommate’s side looked like no one had lived there in months and all that was left on mine were the bedsheets and bags sprawled all over the floor. The night before, I had a movie marathon by myself with a mug of hot chocolate and a bag of popcorn to pretend things were normal before they weren’t. My mom and younger sister arrived the next day to help fill the car with everything from my room as I said goodbye to the place I had just become comfortable in. Honestly, March might go on record as the longest month of my life (as of right now). The first week I was home flew by quicker than I anticipated, but every day after that seemed to go on forever. Spring break was extended another week, so online classes wouldn’t start up until March 30th, giving me plenty of time to do absolutely nothing but mess up my sleep schedule and eat more ice cream than recommended.

            I have lived through my fair share of tragedies; natural disasters, mass shootings, bombings, you name it. However, the tragedy that resonates most with our current situation is one that I have no recollection of and that is Hurricane Katrina. The devastating category 5 tropical cyclone of 2005 struck New Orleans and left thousands of residents without belongings, loved ones, or strong leadership. President Bush and his administration’s response was unbelievably distant, not taking any action until days after the damage. Today, instead of personally communicating with COVID-19 patients and their families, President Trump spends his time promoting unapproved treatments and suggesting that we inject ourselves with disinfectant on national television. We’ve even seen Mike Pence walking into a hospital, visiting patients without wearing any type of face covering. This lack of sympathy towards the American people is nothing new. From Bush to Trump, we’ve been forced to listen to halfhearted messages of hope without any real action.

            Everyone is at home unless they’re an essential worker or out protesting in the streets and screaming in the faces of health professionals. I wish I were joking when I say that people are carrying Trump flags, items covered in swastikas, and assault rifles all over the country to “protest” the government dictating what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies. (Newsflash, women have been protesting that exact thing for decades.) Those in the streets are demanding that the government reopens the economy, not for the stability of the country, but so they can get a haircut or grab a drink at their favorite bar. What angers me the most about these gatherings is, shockingly, not the swastikas. It’s that grown men and women, predominantly white, are shouting in the faces of doctors, nurses, and even police officers and getting away with it. Somehow, I’m living in a time where Black Lives Matter protests are deemed as “looking for trouble” by the president and are forcibly shut down by law enforcement while armed men and women can gather in large groups lacking masks during a nationwide lockdown without any arrests or violence from police officers. I can’t wrap my head around that. I can’t wrap my head around a lot of what’s happening right now.

            I didn’t think being home all the time would be such a struggle since I don’t have many places to go in the first place, but it hit me within the first two weeks of online classes. My mom is working from home and my dad was laid off from his job. My anxiety is heightened all the time and my stress levels have officially gone through the roof. I’m thankful for the distraction that schoolwork gives me, but I’m already worrying about what I’m going to do when the semester ends in two weeks. Summer plans are being canceled right and left and there’s a tiny voice in the back of my head that picks at the thought of fall semester being moved online. It all feels so surreal.

            If there’s anything I want for the future of the country, it’s that there is stronger leadership and more unity. Two things that seem so simple to me but aren’t as easy to come by as they should be. I hope we can reflect on this time in quarantine and remember the positives; communities coming together to provide food for those who don’t have access to fresh meals, drive-by birthdays for kids who aren’t able to celebrate with their friends, Animal Crossing: New Horizons coming out at the perfect time. I don’t want to look back at this as a low point in my life even though it feels that way half the time. In the long run, I hope this serves as a wake-up call to a lot of people. And God, I hope my generation and everyone after us can fix the mess that’s been left for us.

            Respectfully,

            Martina Rexrode, age 19