Stay six feet away from me

By Mo Juenger, Print Managing Editor

As I write this, I am testing positive for COVID-19. But according to Xavier, I will attend in-person classes alongside all of you. My advice: Stay as far from me as you can, because I could give you COVID-19 and never know it happened. 

Over winter break, I tested positive. As I hit my 10th symptomless day, it became evident that I was going to continue testing positive long after I was contagious. This is relatively common; the incubation period for COVID-19 can be up to 14 days, and some individuals test positive for up to six weeks. 

This phenomenon is not new, and it’s well-known that people who test positive become radically less contagious after 10 days. The issue, however, is that I tested positive for the Delta variant. 

Typical COVID-19 tests cannot tell you which strain of the virus you have contracted. However, I experienced a loss of taste and smell — a symptom not associated as commonly with Omicron. 

Data shows that individuals who contracted any other strain of COVID-19 have little natural immunity against Omicron. Dr. Gregory Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, explained: “Somebody who’s previously been infected with (COVID-19), their chance of getting reinfected with Omicron is almost 5½-fold higher than reinfection with Delta.” 

This reinfection could be immediate. In fact, there are even cases of individuals who have been infected with Omicron and Delta variants at the same time. This means that, as soon as I exited isolation, I became susceptible to reinfection from the Omicron variant. 

I am still testing positive from my Delta case. I had very mild symptoms during my stint with Delta, a variant experts are saying is likely more severe than the newest. So if I contracted Omicron, I wouldn’t be able to tell from a test that I am reinfected. I might not even know. 

I don’t want to infect my classmates. I don’t want to infect anyone. For that reason, I am wholly uncomfortable with returning to in-person classes. But Xavier’s administration has made it abundantly clear that in-person classes are here to stay. 

In Xavier’s Jan. 6 Campus Message, administrators admit that our nation, state, county and community are “experiencing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 infections.” They wrote: “We anticipate a spike in COVID cases in our community at the beginning of the semester.” Mere sentences later, they proceeded to tell us that all in-person learning will resume as planned. 

To summarize, Provost Rachel Chrastil, Vice President of Risk Management Jeff Coleman and Dean of Students Jean Griffin told students that they anticipate members of the Xavier community will contract COVID-19, and that there’s nothing more to be done about it. They mandated vaccines and masks, so what else could they possibly do? 

I will tell you: Go online. 

Now, in all fairness, they addressed this in their email. In-person learning, to them, is important “to support our students’ educational, social and emotional needs.” 

Well, I just had COVID-19. I can tell you firsthand that nothing has ever been worse for my social and emotional needs. I am a junior. I’ve done remote learning before, and COVID-19 was infinitely worse for my social and emotional needs than Zoom could ever be. 

I understand and appreciate the value that in-person learning could bring to some students, and I absolutely validate that. If other students are vaccinated and comfortable attending class in person, they should. 

But I am worried. The concept that Xavier anticipates me contracting the virus makes me feel deeply hurt and concerned. I am worried constantly that no further preventative measures will be taken for students who don’t anticipate themselves contracting coronavirus. 

This thought is and has been on the top of my mind for weeks, and quite frankly, it’s distracting. It is an active detriment to my education to come home after class and worry if I am sick, if I have spread the virus to my classmates, if they are going home to an immunocompromised loved one and endangering someone’s life because I came to class. 

I know that not everyone feels the same, and I respect that. But the fact that Xavier doesn’t respect that infuriates me. Instead of listening to students’ worries, the university created a “one-size-fits-all” COVID-19 plan that — and I repeat — anticipates you getting sick. 

The solution to this is mind-bogglingly simple: Provide a hybrid attendance option. Let students and faculty choose. Every member of Xavier’s community deserves to make their own risk assessment. 

Every faculty member has been through this pandemic with us. They all know how to instruct a hybrid course, because students have been contracting the virus for the past two years. And more importantly, faculty also deserve to choose if they are comfortable resuming in-person courses. 

Xavier, not just its administrators, should determine what supports our educational, social and emotional needs. If any administrators have a problem with that statement, their current stance dictates that they can come talk to me about it in person. But if I were them, I wouldn’t — because my tests say that I’ve still got COVID-19.