By Benjamin M. Richards
The campus of County College of Morris was closed Friday, March 13 and will not reopen until New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy allows it. His order caused all colleges and universities across the state of New Jersey to close in order to protect students, faculty, staff, and community members from the Coronavirus. CCM classes moved online starting Monday, March 23, after spring break concluded. All in person meetings, activities and events, including the 2020 graduation ceremony, have been cancelled. Field trips, sports practices, and games have also been cancelled.
During CCM’s spring break, the county of Morris set up tents in Lot 1 of CCM for Coronavirus testing. New Jersey and at least seven other states have now been ordered to stay at home.
Almost immediately, many in the U.S. were aware of the spread of COVID-19 and the danger it represented to people physically and to the U.S. economy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an American non-profit organization that focuses on the role of the U.S. in global health policy and major healthcare issues facing the United States, as of February 13-18, 2020, 56 percent of those polled said that they had heard a lot about the COVID-19 outbreak and 87 percent said they knew that there were already cases in the U.S. United States citizens were also worried about the economy, with 57 percent saying that they are very or somewhat concerned the COVID-19 outbreak will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. 43 percent of those polled also reported they were concerned they or someone in their family would fall ill. All this concern over personal health and well-being has prompted people to take precautions like stock-piling food and supplies.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, a sophomore communication major, was on a trip to Florida to visit family over spring break but was able to return with time for groceries.
“Right after my flight back from Florida, I went to ShopRite and got the essential food items I needed. Since then, I have been self-quarantining and haven’t ordered food or eaten out for the most part,” said Fitzpatrick.
U.S. citizens have not been laid back when it comes to buying food and essential items. In fact, they’ve taken to hoarding them in massive quantities. According to Newsweek, commercial stores in the U.S. have had such a difficult time keeping their shelves stocked that some people have resorted to traveling elsewhere for goods. Until the U.S.-Mexico border closed, Californians had been heading down into Northern Baja, Mexico to buy toilet paper, water, and other goods as stores in the state struggled to maintain a stock of said items.
Of course, access to food and toiletries isn’t the only issue facing CCM students. Another problem that students are feeling presently is the shift from in-person classes at campus to a completely online second half of the semester. Fitzpatrick mentioned that having all of his classes online is an uneasy thought. He said that he has taken online courses before and hasn’t been satisfied, as he believes that there are core aspects that just aren’t transferable to an online experience, like asking your professor questions and engaging with the class in real life.
The CCM approach to transitioning classes from a campus experience to an online platform has been tough. Updates have been sent by the administration via Blackboard notifications and emails to students’ college accounts, but that may not be enough.
“Translating classes from IRL to digitally taught will be a learning experience for both faculty and students. As time goes on, people will become more comfortable with the format shift. Something that might help students stay aware of the constant changes and know the basics of what the college’s plan is for this transitional period would be if CCM sent updates through Titan Alerts instead of just email, as many students check their phones more often than they check their academic email addresses,” said Fitzpatrick.
As diseases and pandemics can cause fear and mistrust, they can also bring xenophobia and racist assumptions to the forefront of civic life. According to The Atlantic, an American magazine, there has been an uptick in instances of racism related to the irrational fear of anyone who appears as Asian, regardless of their nationality, as they are assumed incorrectly to be carriers of the disease. Some of these instances are simply being avoided on public transit or getting a wary eye of distrust. Others are more extreme, as one student from Singapore was violently attacked in London, U.K., just because of his “foreign” appearance. Another instance was when a Vietnamese artist was disinvited from a London art fair just because the organizers thought the other attendees would fear her being contagious.
Katherine Grosso, a part-time student at CCM and a digital media major, sees that these social interactions are the wrong approach to handling the COVID-19 outbreak in a social setting.
“The Coronavirus has changed my community and home in that everyone is living more simply. When I go out for walks, I see children playing with baseballs and bicycles and sidewalk chalk. This virus has stripped everybody of security in belongings because even if we can get belongings, we must ration them… I have found that the people I have passed by on my walks have been incredibly nice, and overall, people just seem to be more compelled to be kind during this time than before,” said Grosso.
Continuing in Grosso’s outlook, she believes that, while the CCM administration has a new and complicated situation to deal with, they are doing a fair job at managing all the aspects of the transition. However, something Grosso believes would make the transition easier on the student body would be if the coursework online weren’t too heavy or overbearing. There is little time left in the semester and as the world spirals into a scary place, it is extra important to have a balance of work and leisure. Grosso also cites her personal faith as something she can rely on in these times of confusion and hardship.
Despite all the worry and apparent national awareness of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., only 19 percent of those in the KFF poll said that they had taken any measures to stay safe. Those numbers are more than worrying, as while the estimates for how many U.S. citizens will contract the disease vary on available data and testing ability, many experts believe the true number of cases far exceeds the previously calculated number of U.S. citizens that officially have the virus. According to The Atlantic, as of March 21, 2020, on the last day of February, 15 U.S. citizens tested positive for COVID-19; by early March, more than 17,000 have tested positive. Yet, in that same article, virologist Trevor Bedford claimed to have found evidence that COVID-19 began rapidly spreading in the U.S. as early as January and that it has likely already infected approximately 87,000 U.S. citizens. It may seem grim, but a study recently published by Imperial College London predicted that, unless strong and swift measures get put in place, the Coronavirus could kill 2.2. million U.S. citizens in the coming months. It all comes down to how many individuals take this matter seriously and take the necessary precautions like social distancing and self-quarantining and actions the U.S. government and each of the states take to combat the spread of the virus. Stay safe by washing hands for at least 20 seconds on a regular basis, avoid coughing or sneezing openly or directly into your hand, and stock-pile necessary food and other essential items to prepare for long weeks of isolation. With all of these changes, CCM students have been asked to contact the new TASC+ with any challenges they may be dealing with.