Are we living in a ‘post-COVID world’?

A first-year’s perspective on the pandemic

“We are living in a post-COVID society.” This phrase is often used now that the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed and the world has mostly moved on from the tragedies and difficulties of a global pandemic. While everyone has been focusing on the relief that has come from the decline in cases and release from quarantine, should people really stop participating in proper COVID-19 protocols?
According to the CDC, the world reached its highest amount of total COVID — over 500,000 — in April of 2020. Now, in our “post-COVID world,” the daily number of documented cases reaches around 60,000 on average, which is a significant drop in comparison to the numbers reached during the height of the pandemic. Despite the evident drop and slow decline of cases, it is still important that people take precautions, even in the smallest ways.
When touring Allegheny last fall, numerous times during the tour it was made apparent that the campus has made a great effort to make a change in the number of documented cases of COVID-19, having enforced masks, social distancing and remote learning during the height of the pandemic. Now that things have returned to “normal,” the campus has become laxer, making certain protocols like masks optional for students and faculty. While the world has had a slow decline in cases, COVID is still very prevalent and has not been eradicated, so it is important for students and faculty on campus to take precautions to prevent the excessive spreading of the virus. Each individual has the opportunity to decide how they handle life on campus now, which has its freedoms and risks.
But are we living in this “post-COVID” society the media talks so much about? Technically, yes, we are. The height of the pandemic has passed and the CDC guidelines have lax. But COVID is still prevalent in society, and there still being cases and deaths as a result of the virus. Really, COVID will never be entirely left behind, and it will always be prevalent; it’s just a matter of how we handle it now and well into the future.
Allegheny is a small campus, having an enrollment of about 1,400, as opposed to a large campus such as the University of Pittsburgh with its 34,000 students. This means the likelihood of a mass outbreak of COVID here is smaller than it is on a bigger campus. Nevertheless, any sort of COVID outbreak at Allegheny would still affect a vast number of students and faculty. The COVID protocol on Allegheny’s campus is and should be different from a college with a larger student population. However, this does not mean the community should completely neglect all forms of COVID-19 prevention. Masks are wonderful protectors from spreading and contracting COVID-19, as well as other illnesses, but many people prefer life without them, and what’s the harm in having a personal opinion?
As an incoming first-year, the abrupt change from a small private high school to a much larger private college is very overwhelming, especially given that the past three years of high school were anything but normal. COVID changed people’s lives: the social aspect, their working environment, and in my case, my education. COVID made high school a breeze, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Virtual classes were made easy by answering a few questions for attendance and then having the rest of the day to do nothing. Returning to school with the mask mandate made classes less active and interactive. How are incoming first-years supposed to adjust to a fully interactive school year when the last three have been anything but, and we’ve been deprived of a challenging high school experience that should have prepared us for the change into high school?
Alongside the rest of the incoming class of 2026, we have to endure an abrupt change from lax online high school classes and adjusted in-person classes this past school year, and now face an entirely new setting and learning environment.
The community has been very welcoming these past few weeks and has made an environment in which people can feel comfortable making the decision of wearing a mask or not. People are not shamed or given looks because they choose to wear or mask or not wear a mask. Everyone seems comfortable co-existing with other people, despite their personal preferences. I have found that this is simply a part of the nature of Allegheny, acceptance regardless of differing opinions, beliefs or ideals, as opposed to the environment of the high school I attended previously.
I personally don’t wear a mask because I feel comfortable on this campus and confident that the school will know how to handle any positive cases — also because it is still incredibly hot and masks seem very uncomfortable in this weather. However, I don’t believe that people should revert entirely back to life before the pandemic. Hand washing is vital. I carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere because who knows what and who has touched those door handles and hand railings? It’s better to slap on some extra hand sanitizer or stop to wash your hands quickly than to head to McKinley to eat lunch with half the student population’s germs getting on your mac and cheese bites.
In short, hand sanitizer and hand washing are something we should all adapt into our daily lives tenfold from how we did before the pandemic. None of us know who in our dorm hall or history class is at high risk, and it’s easier and smarter to apply hand sanitizer after touching a few door knobs than to put someone’s life — even a stranger’s— at risk.
Yes, we are living in a “post-COVID society,” but this does not mean COVID has disappeared, nor does this mean we should revert back to neglecting our health and the health of others for convenience’s sake. Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and enjoy your mac and cheese with a minimal amount of classmate germ seasoning, and some ketchup instead.