Between the time I made the final edits to last Monday’s blog, and when I posted it early that afternoon, I received word that our campus had just confirmed its first positive COVID-19 test, and that the employee who had tested positive was self-isolating at home as a result. I thought about adding that information to my blog, but decided against doing so since it didn’t feel particularly germane to the issues I was facing at the time. One of our students tested positive a few days ago, and while that’s still just the second known pandemic case on our campus, it’s impossible to ignore how the tone here has dramatically changed in the past week.
For my part, my one in-person class had already been scheduled (way before the start of the semester) to meet online this week, but I’ll be proctoring another test on Saturday, which will involve a second visit on Friday to help set the location up for the test. I doubt that the two cases of COVID-19 on our campus by themselves would trigger a campus closure — I trust our students and my co-workers to keep campus conditions as sanitary as possible, and we’ve all been working super-hard at that — but in the wake of the explosion of pandemic cases here in Wisconsin lately, I have to wonder if one of my bosses, or even someone in Madison, will shut things down before I get to Saturday’s test.
I’m incredibly fortunate that I not only have a job that allows me to work from my apartment (even if I deeply miss in-person classes and feel like I do a better job with those), but that the research work I’ve been doing on my next book (join my Patreon for details of that) has been occupying most of the time I haven’t been spending teaching or eating or sleeping. In some ways, it almost feels like I haven’t had the time to notice how isolated I’ve been these past few months, even if sometimes I find myself missing small talk, something I didn’t think was even possible until this pandemic hit. I can’t really think of anything more I can do at this point to protect myself against the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the state, since I’ve been doing so much here since the start of the pandemic to keep myself safe and away from people.
Having said that, though, I feel considerably less safe than I did at this time last week, but my feelings there have less to do with the pandemic and a lot more to do with the deliberate stupidity around me. I’ve been using apartment-cleaning time to stay as up-to-date on the news as I can stomach at this point, and I can’t shake the feeling that no one has yet been able to articulate just how unpredictable the next few weeks will be here in America. For my state to have to deal with such a steep uptick in COVID-19 cases at the same time just makes me more concerned about the potential local impacts here. Despite what some people around these parts say, this is not “the middle of nowhere,” and I don’t assume for one second that we’re somehow immune to everything going on in the rest of the world. The spike of COVID-19 cases here is all the confirmation anyone should need of that.
Like many campuses across the country, ours made the decision to have students stay at home after Thanksgiving, and to do the final weeks of fall semester online, so we’ve only got a few weeks of in-person learning to do before we effectively shut our physical campus down again. I have another test to proctor in December, but I’m not even thinking about that right now; the test I have to proctor on Saturday is just barely on my radar as it is. For all the time distortions that so many of us have experienced since the start of the pandemic, it’s hard not to anticipate that the next three weeks will feel like three centuries to those of us going through them. I just hope that more people on our campus don’t get COVID-19 in that time.