The updated COVID-19 booster is bivalent, meaning it contains components from two different strains.
La Salle University is set to host two on-campus vaccine clinics for members of the La Salle community in the Union Ballroom. It will provide those eligible with the updated COVID-19 boosters as well as this season’s flu shot free of charge. Any member of the La Salle community 18 years or older is eligible to attend. The first clinic will be held Oct. 12 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and the second on Wednesday, Oct. 19 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The clinics will only offer the updated COVID-19 booster to those who received their single dose of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine or their second dose of their Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine series more than two months prior to booster administration. Those who have already received a booster to their COVID-19 vaccination or series, must have received the booster more than two months prior to be eligible for the new booster.
The updated COVID-19 booster is bivalent, meaning it contains material from two strains of the virus. It contains a portion of the original COVID strain that was known to be the cause of the pandemic since March of 2020, as well as a portion of the BA 1 Omicron strain, which was first identified late last year. By most accounts, those who received their original vaccine or series were protected heavily against the symptoms of Omicron, but not entirely from the virus itself.
This new booster promises to raise immune system protection against COVID-19 and Omicron, as well as bolstering symptom resistance already granted by the original vaccine.
The La Salle University COVID-19 portal’s latest information states that since the beginning of this semester, 75 members of the La Salle community have contracted COVID-19. Continuing to mask, test regularly and shelter in place are still the most effective and simplest ways to stop the spread of COVID-19, but adding a first or second COVID booster to your arsenal is perhaps the best way to protect yourself from the virus.
In addition to COVID boosters, the vaccine clinic will also provide flu vaccines to those who request one. The CDC has stated that “while limited data exist on giving COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines… experience with giving other vaccines together has shown the way our bodies develop protection and possible side effects are generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines.”
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and health policy at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said in an interview with NPR, “If we have a serious influenza season, and if the Omicron variants continue to cause principally mild disease, this coming winter could be a much worse flu season than COVID.” He also said that this could finally be the year that we see the rise of the long-warned “twindemic,” a season in which COVID-19 and Influenza are just as infectious.
Even those that do not traditionally receive their flu vaccine are encouraged to consider it this season, as the possibility of a twindemic or flu outbreak on campus alongside steadily climbing late year COVID numbers could send the La Salle community back online if not kept in check. To register for a COVID-19 bivalent booster, flu vaccine or both, click here or email COVID19@lasalle.edu for details.
Header Image: New York Times Philadelphians wearing masks outside of City Hall
On Monday, April 11, Philadelphia announced that the indoor mask mandate would be reinstated beginning on April 18 because of rising COVID-19 cases which have risen more than 50 percent in 10 days. This rise is the threshold that the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. Health officials believe the recent spike is being driven by the highly transmissible subvariant of omicron: BA.2. Spreading rapidly throughout Europe and Asia, BA.2 has become dominant in the U.S. and more specifically Philadelphia in recent weeks. Currently, Philadelphia averages 142 new cases per day.
Masks will be required in all indoor public spaces, including schools and childcare settings, businesses, restaurants and government buildings. Once the mandate goes into effect, residents will be asked to report any business not complying with the mandate. The mask mandate is tied to the COVID-19 Response Levels, and as COVID cases rise in Philly, the Philadelphia Public Health Department wants to protect its most vulnerable residents and they believe wearing a mask around others is an easy way to do that.
Before the update, Philadelphia was operating on Level One which means that two or more of the following are true: average new cases per day are less than 100, hospitalizations are less than 50 or cases have increased by less than 50 percent in the previous 10 days. There are no vaccine or testing requirements for establishments that serve food or drink in Level One. Within Level One, there is no expressed mask requirement except in schools, healthcare institutions, congregate settings and on public transportation.
Since the city is transitioning into Level Two, two or more of the following are true: average new cases per day are less than 225, hospitalizations are less than 100 and cases have increased by more than 50 percent in the previous 10 days. With this new phase, the city will be requiring that citizens wear a mask when indoors in public places, but there is no expressed vaccine or testing requirement for places that serve food or drink.
Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said businesses can choose to be mask-free if they require all employees and visitors to prove they have been vaccinated. Bettigole believes that if the city failed to require masks now, “knowing that every previous wave of infections has been followed by a wave of hospitalizations, and then a wave of deaths, then it will be too late for many of our residents.”
Although the national increase for COVID-19 is relatively low, about three percent, cases in northeastern cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., have been higher. Some colleges in the northeast, including Columbia, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, have reinstated indoor mask mandates recently. La Salle University has yet to make a statement about mask requirements, but in the past, La Salle has followed suit with the city of Philadelphia’s guidelines. Some La Salle students are frustrated with the new city guidelines. Sophomore Enrique Carrasco says that the new guidelines are confusing because cases are not as high as they have been in the past when new mask mandates were instated. Senior criminal justice student Audrey Walker says she is “curious to see if the university will follow the city mandate since cases on campus are very low right now,” and senior psychology student Frankie Knoll is concerned about having to wear a mask at graduation if the mandate is put in place. “I think the new mask mandate can be frustrating for some people tired of wearing them, but I think it’s a good idea to protect Philly and get the numbers down,” said graduate student Sarah Lundquist. In addition, sophomore David O’Brien hopes that La Salle maintains the current policy, rather than mandating masks again.
On March 2, Interim President Tim O’Shaughnessy responded to the recently revised city mask guidelines explaining that, although the Philadelphia Department of Public Health issued an adjustment to its indoor masking policy, La Salle’s COVID-19 response team reviewed these revised public health guidelines and waited to update the campus community regarding any potential policy changes. Until that new update, the current indoor masking policy remained in effect. O’Shaughnessy continued to encourage COVID-19 boosters and vaccines because they remain the greatest tools for reducing severe illness in our community and returning to a more active campus life.
On March 4, just days after the original update, O’Shaughnessy wrote to the La Salle community again to announce that “beginning Monday, March 7, La Salle University will transition to recommending, but not requiring, that masks be worn indoors. Everyone must continue to carry an appropriate mask with them at all times.” This changing mask policy follows the guidance of federal and local health agencies and was decided with the counsel of La Salle’s COVID-19 response team.
There are still circumstances where masks will be required like on the University shuttle, in clinical healthcare settings and in the COVID-19 testing center. In addition, masks are required to be held in the event that an individual asks others to be masked in their presence. If asked to mask up, it is recommended students follow the request.
During the upcoming spring break (March 12–20), La Salle will likely see a significant portion of our community travel away from campus. Therefore, masks will be required for the five-day period immediately following the University’s spring break, the week of March 21–25, as a preventative strategy. O’Shaughnessy does, however, explain that “masks have helped limit the spread of COVID-19. If necessary, we will not hesitate to reinstitute a mask mandate in the event that we experience significantly increased case counts on campus or in the region.”
As for other universities in the area and their mask mandates, many of these schools are on spring break. But, Temple University’s Senior Director of Health Services, Mark Denys, explained that “out of an abundance of caution, the university will still require the use of masks inside buildings when we return to campus next week.” Furthermore, Saint Joseph’s University’s president Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., explained on March 2 that “Given declining numbers regionally and nationally, our very high community vaccination rate and updated guidance from the CDC, City of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, the University will no longer require masks be worn indoors in all shared or common spaces at all times. Beginning tomorrow, March 3, masks will be optional on campus.” Drexel University decided that “despite loosened local mask ordinances, Drexel’s indoor mask requirement will continue at least through the end of winter term (through March 19, 2022) while we assess community needs moving forward. Masks are also still required on public transit throughout Philadelphia.”
In speaking to a few students about the new mask guidelines, the Collegian’s Managing Editor David O’Brien kept his response simple, saying, “I’m glad we don’t have to wear them anymore,” but junior biology student Luke Szyszkiewicz explained that he “doesn’t like how confusing the different rules are between different professors and the university.”The Collegian’s Editor-in-Chief Jake Eiseman says, “I think dropping the mask guidelines on campus is a positive move. It’s in accordance with the CDC’s and the city’s recommendations and cases have been low on campus for months now. Giving people the option to take the mask off should be seen as a good thing overall, but there are bound to be a few bad apples. Many people will continue to wear the mask regardless, and some will remove them when they feel it is safe, but some will never wear a mask again even when expressing symptoms, and that is my main concern.”
Editor’s Note: Although I am personally excited that we no longer have to wear masks because our cases are quite low, I think that these conditions should only prevail with high vaccination rates and requirements. I think that taking away the masks is a good decision for now and likely the remainder of the semester, but I hope the university continues to closely moderate cases and surges so that the campus’s health remains a top priority.
Make a decision: mask or no mask? I’m going to leave the science up to the public health experts and virologists; I’m not interested in making a case for masks (even though I will continue to wear mine until the data shows that I don’t have to). Why am I not interested in making that case? Because everyone is getting unique information. There is no guarantee that I am reading the same news as my neighbor, and doesn’t that fact take away from its legitimacy as news? We lack a shared reality these days, and when we’ve got a killer virus on our hands, that fact is terrifying. But that’s not why I’m writing; that’s fodder for a later article.
The purpose of this article is to ask my fellow Lasallians to make a choice. If you’re going to wear a mask, wear it properly; otherwise, what’s the point? I’m trying to understand. Everything we do and wear sends a message, and the message sent by wearing your mask around your chin is that you don’t, in that moment, care to avoid contracting an airborne virus. I can understand wearing a mask properly and then pulling it down on your chin to eat or drink, or when you’re struggling to communicate and you really need the added clarification provided by seeing your mouth. But why walk around, why teach a class with your mask around your chin? I genuinely don’t understand.
It can’t be a form of “virtue signaling,” to use a buzzer term as of late. It can’t be, because what virtue are you trying to communicate? People who choose not to wear masks may look at those who do as sheep; as people who lack the values of personal liberty that so dutifully reinforce our social, political and economic fabrics. Some people who choose not to wear masks look at those who do as performative and over-reactive. Some people who choose to wear masks (in spite of the university saying we don’t have to) view those who don’t as pig-headed and selfish. Individual liberty and the collective good. Those are the virtues at conflict.
But wearing it around your chin? Pick a side. Do you believe you and the community are safe enough without the added barrier provided by masks, or do you believe we have to keep this up indefinitely? Pick a side, make a decision. Your mask is doing nothing for you on your chin, except for prompting me to write this article.
Two weeks ago, we published the first in what will (hopefully) be a series of anonymous surveys for the La Salle Collegian community to share their opinions on a variety of topics. For the inaugural survey, what better topic than something we haven’t stopped hearing about and thinking about for the past couple of years — online classes, COVID-19 and La Salle’s reaction to it all?
The survey was available on the homepage of the Collegian website and was taken by about 70 people. Around 40 were current students who had taken at least one semester of completely online classes and at least one semester of completely (or mostly completely) online classes. The rest were professors, staff, alumni, friends and family of students or students who had only taken online or only in-person classes. This number of responses is just a small collection of Collegian readers and students and is not necessarily representative of the entire University. However, there are still some interesting insights and patterns shown through the responses.
The majority of the topics in the survey, which were only shown to students who had taken at least a semester of online classes as well as a semester of in-person classes, compared online and in-person learning in a variety of ways. Statements were presented with a Likert scale with the responses “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “neither agree nor disagree,” “somewhat disagree,” “strongly disagree” and “I don’t know/this doesn’t apply to me.” At the end of the survey, all respondents could also share whatever other information on these topics that they wanted the Collegian to know.
To try to reduce possible bias from the ways the questions were phrased, for each topic, half of the respondents received a statement asking about online learning compared to in-person learning, while the other half of the respondents received the same statement but reversed, so it asked about in-person learning compared to online learning. For example, a statement about mental health was phrased as “my mental health is better during online classes than it is during in-person classes” for half of the people who took the survey and “my mental health is better during in-person classes than it is during online classes” for the other half. Since the comparison was between just those two choices, a response of “strongly agree” to one ‘version’ of the question means that, at least logically, that same person would have answered “strongly disagree” if they had been asked to respond to the reversed statement. For that reason (and to cut down on the number of charts in this article), all results will be presented in terms of in-person vs online versions of the statements, with all responses to both versions of the question combined.
Here are the results.
“My mental health is better during in-person classes than it is during online classes.”
The majority of students who responded to this question thought that their mental health is better during in-person classes than it is during online classes.
“My professors’ office hours are more convenient in-person than online.”
The highest number of students were neutral on this statement. However, more students thought that online office hours were more convenient than in-person office hours.
“My professors’ office hours are more helpful in-person than online.”
While a high number of students, again, found this statement neutral, many more students found that office hours were more helpful in-person instead of online.
“It is easier for me to work on schoolwork when classes are in-person instead of online.”
The majority of students found it easier to work on schoolwork when classes are in-person.
“It is easier for me to work (at a job) when classes are in-person instead of online.”
The responses to this statement were more varied, but most students thought that working at a job was easier when classes were online.
“It is easier for me to join clubs and extracurriculars when classes are in-person instead of online.”
Again, the majority of students who answered this question find it easier to get involved with clubs and extracurriculars in-person (although, during online classes, many groups, including the Collegian, did meet and organize online).
“My grades, overall, are better when classes are in-person than when they are online.”
This statement had an even split of agreement and disagreement — while eight respondents were neutral, 11 agreed and 11 disagreed in some capacity.
“It is easier for me to connect with my classmates when classes are in-person instead of online.”
Just one respondent disagreed with this statement.
“In-person classes are more interactive than online classes.”
This topic was shown to both students and professors who took the survey, and both groups overall agree that in-person classes are more interactive than online classes. One respondent at the end of the survey made a note that “online classes can be very interactive if the professor knows how to set them up that way.”
All people who took the survey, regardless of if they are students or not, were able to answer questions about La Salle’s distribution of COVID-19 information, contact tracing and COVID-19 testing policies and if they knew who to contact if they had questions on any of those topics.
“La Salle’s distribution of information about online classes, COVID-19 policies and other related topics has overall been up-to-date.”
A majority of respondents thought that this information has been distributed in a timely manner.
“La Salle’s distribution of information about online classes, COVID-19 policies and other related topics has overall been helpful.”
While more people agreed than disagreed with this statement, there was still a fair number of respondents who did not think the University’s information about these topics has been helpful.
“If I have a question about La Salle’s COVID-19 policies, I know who to contact or where to find the information.”
Most respondents seemed to know where they could have their questions answered, although several were also confused and unsure. For current information on La Salle’s COVID-19 policies, check this page.
The last statement students were shown asked them to choose between all online or all in-person classes for the current semester.
“All things considered, if I had to choose between either all in-person classes or all online classes for this semester, I would choose in-person.”
A large majority of respondents prefer in-person classes over online ones for this semester.
“I think that online classes don’t work,” explained one respondent at the end of the survey. “My experiences with online classes have been well,” wrote another. Someone else thinks it is necessary to “keep online classes and accommodations accessible for disabled students and those at highest risk,” and another wrote that it is important to remember that “there is inherent risk to everyone once a person walks outside their home or dorm.”
Although the sample size of this survey is certainly not large enough to represent the campus community as a whole, the results and patterns in the responses are still interesting. Here are my main takeaways.
Overall, the Collegian community, or at least those tuned in enough to respond to this survey, seems to think the University is doing a pretty good job distributing up-to-date and helpful information. Most students who took this survey reported that, in in-person classes, their mental health was better, joining clubs and extracurriculars and connecting with classmates was easier and it was easier to work on schoolwork. However, while classes were online, most respondents found it easier to work at jobs, and many found that online office hours are more convenient than in-person ones. Whether classes were online or in-person didn’t seem to have a consistent effect on students’ grades and, all things considered, the vast majority of students who took this survey would prefer completely in-person classes over totally online ones for this semester.
Many factors have influenced La Salle’s decisions about online classes and COVID-19 policies over the past two years, and some of those factors were certainly not covered in this survey. However, I think it is important to see what students, professors and others in the La Salle community think about changes and policies. We regularly receive surveys from the University about topics like Residence Life and dining options on campus, so why not something including some of the topics and themes in this article? These as well as other subjects could provide important insight to administration about what students think about their decisions and changes — because, after all, shouldn’t they be a little bit interested?
If you have any ideas for topics for future surveys, feel free to contact me at the email linked above!
On Jan. 5, La Salle University released an update on COVID-19 and the spring semester. This notice included information about a booster requirement, updating vaccine information, testing, masking and student programming. Regarding the vaccine, La Salle University is requiring all members of the campus community receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose within 30 days of eligibility to minimize the number of community members who may become infected or need to quarantine because of exposure. Those who are vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 will have more flexibility with quarantine and isolation protocols per newest CDC guidance. Some members of the La Salle community already have an approved exemption on file with the University and will continue to be exempt, but unvaccinated individuals must either double-mask or wear a KN95 mask while indoors per The Philadelphia Department of Public Health. La Salle University has created a deadline and community members must receive a COVID-19 booster shot and submit verification to the University by Tuesday, Feb. 15.
In addition, Once a member of the La Salle community has received the COVID-19 vaccine and/or booster, students and employees must update their vaccination records on file with the University. In addition, for non-residential students and employees, entry testing is available and strongly encouraged. Testing is available at no expense and without an appointment. In addition to residential student entry testing, The Treetops Café testing center has expanded the hours of operation.
In addition, unvaccinated individuals are required to complete weekly testing. Students who do not comply with testing requirements will face disciplinary action through Student Conduct. Failure to comply with one test will result in a temporary restriction to campus. Failure to comply with two or more tests will result in suspension. Faculty or staff who do not comply with testing requirements will face disciplinary action through HR with action up to termination. However, there was a 95% vaccination rate as of Dec. 15, so only a small percentage of the community needs to adhere to this testing.
Furthermore, masks continue to be a requirement in all indoor settings on La Salle’s campus. Since the omicron variant is more transmissible than previous variants, La Salle University recommends surgical-grade masks and KN95 masks. The University has a supply of surgical, N95, KN95, and University-branded cloth masks that are available to students and employees. Limited quantities of each supply can be obtained at the on-campus testing center at Treetops Café as well as in each residence hall security desk reception area and Union Information Desk.
As for in-person extracurricular activities, student Organization Programs and Meetings will need to be virtual through the end of February. Student organizations are encouraged to wait on hosting in-person events until after February, after a review of the institutional positivity rate has been conducted. However, the university has identified some Office-led events to host in-person to provide some limited safe interaction, and student organizations will be permitted to table in the Student Union Lobby. Overall, with the week of in-person classes, La Salle is operating to best facilitate in-person learning while mitigating the risks of COVID-19.
On Nov. 2 La Salle University’s department of Housing and Residence Life announced an amended visiting policy via email. The email noted that, in general, students have observed compliance with the public health expectations outlined by the University in La Salle’s health and safety guidelines.
Beginning Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 5 p.m., La Salle University’s visitation policy will be revised to allow all residential students to accept enrolled non-residential or commuter students as guests at their residences. All guests must continue to be registered online through the established guest registration process. This new policy will be reviewed on an ongoing basis by La Salle’s COVID-19 Response Team, who will be monitoring the number of campus COVID-19 cases, student conduct cases and the impact of contact tracing.
Each residence hall must abide by different numbers of guests. Including the host or hosts, up to four students can be in a residence hall room, up to six students can be in an apartment and up to 10 students can visit any given townhouse at a time. In addition, face masks are required in residence hall rooms any time guests are visiting. While visiting, the guest must be escorted by their host at all times.
Although the acceptance of commuter guests opens visiting to a new group of people, if students want to host family members or other visitors who are unaffiliated with La Salle University, they may visit campus outside of residential communities and in publicly accessible, open-air spaces.
Sophomore and commuter Danielle O’Brien says she is “very excited about the new changes concerning the guest policy as a commuter. For a time it felt unfair that commuters — a large percent of La Salle’s student population — were being excluded from visiting dorms. I, like many other computers, have trouble finding things to do in between classes, and visiting friends’ dorms would be a perfect way to accommodate this.
“Broadening the guest policy to commuter students such as myself is a great opportunity to make connections and friends that you wouldn’t otherwise, and I’m very excited to plan new activities with friends who are dorming and their dorm mates. Not to mention broadening the guest policy to commuters can entice commuters to rethink on-campus housing as it was made clear to me that those dorming at La Salle clearly have a community of their own within their building.”
My friends and I had a conversation the other day lamenting what we missed and what we missed out on over this past year since none of us were on campus. We talked about dinners at B&G, the recycling situation at the townhouses and the Late Night La Salle events we used to attend. Every week on Wednesdays, I remember the long nights (trapped) in the basement of the Union, editing the Collegian with a buffalo chicken Subway sub beside me while Bianca cloncked around the room in her high heeled boots throwing around ideas for the editorial. Every so often, a professor or student in one of my classes will begin a sentence with “Well, back when we were on campus,” or “So, if we were still on campus, we could” and I remember the “good old days” back when we could talk face-to-face and chat in the hallways before classes and office hours were “just show up” and not “wait for me to email you a Zoom link.”
And then I get all sad about it. I think it’s pretty easy to get into that sort of mindset. I think it’s pretty justified. I can’t lie and say there haven’t been times where I think about everything I did freshman year or the beginning of sophomore year and I’m hit with “wait a second, did I just lose an entire year of college?”
Did I? Did we?
I think the answer is no. But I also think I understand why I (and a whole lot of other people) think that’s not the case.
I don’t need to go on and on about how these aren’t ideal circumstances for anyone, how this has been hard on all of us, how this has certainly affected some people and some situations more than others. We all know it and have heard it before. This article isn’t supposed to be a rehashed sob story or some cheesy “It’s all alright!”
I guess I’ve just been feeling dejected. I think the end of the semester will do that to you in general, but I suppose I should’ve expected it more now, when we can’t pull all-nighters in the Connelly Library or beg the printers in Wister Hall to work because please, please, it’s 8:27 a.m. and my philosophy class is on the third floor and I still have five pages that haven’t made it off of the computer yet.
And so I’m looking for something. I’m not sure what, exactly. Probably a sign, like I usually am, because I’m big on signs. Some sign that this past year and change wasn’t a total wash (I know it wasn’t, somewhere in my real brain — I still learned and experienced a lot of things, both academically and not — but my emotional brain is still wishing I was playing bingo in the Union Ballroom or eating chicken nuggets with my roommates at Treetops or just existing around a community of other people who aren’t my family or my coworkers).
So here are my end of the semester thoughts: I’m searching for something. Maybe it’s guidance, maybe it’s a more specific sense of purpose, maybe it’s some sort of direction or explanation. I’m not sure what it is, exactly; I just know I’m seeking something that I feel like I’m missing.
And in a religion class last night, where the topic was spirituality, religion and those who drift away (and sometimes come back) to organized faiths, Brother Mike posed a question about the intrinsic value of that looking for something, both within and outside of organized religious traditions.
And he said something that I think applies not only to religious searching but to searching for meaning, anywhere and everywhere and especially now:
Five years ago, a week before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” arrived in theaters, I had taken a job in a local grocery store pushing carts in the evening. It was during the holiday season, a time when grocery stores and other retail businesses hired anyone with a pulse. Pushing carts wasn’t a bad gig overall. When the weather was warm and they were constructing the overpass near my work, I loved watching the sunset in the parking lot and listening to the banging of metal in the night air. The work was simple and pleasant. Since then, I have been a cashier, janitor, seafood rep (that lasted a week) and now a floater (a fancier term for stock boy). Being a floater has never been an easy job. It is not just stocking cans of corn on the shelf with a bunch of teenagers and college students. Retirees, teenagers, other college students, people looking for a second chance, parents even college graduates (a coworker who worked overnight stocking shelves had a degree in Business from Temple) work in retail. It has become a major source of employment for the educated and the uneducated, the skilled and the unskilled alike. Regardless of race or creed, what unites us is our frustration for our work and since the pandemic that frustration has only exasperated.
When the pandemic first hit a year ago, our shelves were quickly depleted the weekend Pennsylvania began to shut down. Our freezers became barren, most if not all of our meats were sold, and, of course, we ran out of toilet paper. By the end of the day Saturday of the first weekend of the pandemic, all we really had were Little Debbie products and some sparkling cider left over from Christmas 2019 (that stuff sells poorly, even in the middle of a pandemic). It is hard to believe it has been a year since COVID-19 first hit — those months of March to maybe June of 2020 feel both distant and recent to me. I tried keeping a log back in April, but many of my notes were mundane. I did not record all that happened at work and when I was not working, I was at home puttering around my house. The supply chain did not collapse, but it was under pressure that had not been seen before in the recent history of the United States.
Pictured above is a frozen food aisle in early April 2020.
It was hard telling people who were desperate for toilet paper that we did not have any. I tried directing them to the nearest small corner store or family-owned chain (in the beginning they maintained a better supply than we did). When people would ask me when we would get more stuff in, I would shrug my shoulders and tell them I did not want to lie to them. Some people would accuse us of hoarding supplies and truth be told, we were not. Some coworkers bought a pack of toilet paper together and divided the rolls amongst themselves. For me, my parents had to drive out to the rural parts of PA to find ground beef and toilet paper. We had plenty of Lysol spray and wipes left over from when I had the flu a month earlier (an odd stroke of luck when I think about it). At the beginning of the pandemic, a coworker gave me a can of Lysol and I felt bad taking it, so I took it back to the shelf and explained that we had plenty of it at home, and it felt like I was hoarding. A woman quickly came and picked it up from me and said thank you.
In normal times, delivery trucks come in the early evening, and the overnight crew comes in around 8 p.m. to break it down. However, during the summer, trucks became infrequent. I remember one time I had to come in early (5 a.m.) to help overnight unload a truck that had gotten there an hour earlier. Sometimes we would not get a truck for a day or so and then multiple loads in one day. It really depended on the luck of the draw that day. One surprising phenomenon was that at one point, just so we had stuff, we got stacks of toilet paper and flour that were originally meant for hotels. But since no one was travelling, it made more sense for us to stock shelves with it. Things are semi-stable now, though we still end up running short on supplies depending on what they are.
On social media and television, we were praised for continuing to come into work. That we were in a way heroes for making sure communities had food and supplies. The media certainly thought we were awesome, and we had some customers thank us for what we were doing. However, I do not think people realize just how bad it got on some days. The fear that your coworker sitting across from you had COVID in the breakroom, to customers who would lose control and act like a child having a tantrum in a toy store. One moment that stands out in my mind was the time me and my manager had to go over to our beer garden because an older white man was screaming at a co-worker and an African American customer. When we asked what was wrong, the old man started screaming at our manager claiming that a Black man was following him around the store (he was not, we checked the cameras). He spent 20 minutes screaming at us, telling us about how his wife left him in the store alone, that he thought we were discriminating against him because he was white and not questioning the Black man, he was accusing of following him, that he had PTSD and that if he did not yell, he would get violent. I honestly thought I was going to have to fight this guy who was twice my size at that moment and that I was going to end up on the news. The guy tired himself out and then proceeded to leave and went about our business.
We who work at stores like Acme, Giant, Walmart and Target have been through Hell this last year. We have gone home crying, scared and exhausted. I have broken down in tears personally three times this past year. Many of us did not choose to continue working during this pandemic because we were brave or had a sense of duty. We did it because we had bills to pay and mouths to feed. Our work was not a breeze to begin with and the pandemic only exacerbated our problems. Grocery stores face issues of sexual harassment, disrespect and abuse from the communities we feed. The latter is still being felt now as we struggle to get vaccines and the latest attempt for a minimum wage increase died with Senator Sinema’s obnoxious thumbs down. It is important to remember that behind that mask, the cashier that sounds like a robot reciting the “thank you for shopping with us,” the women in health and beauty care and the guys stocking the shelves are all human and we are so tired.
As we round the corner on the first year of this pandemic, I can’t help but reflect on where we were 365 days ago. In the first week of March 2020, I went from attending a mock trial event with hundreds of people from across the country to throwing a 20th birthday party for one of my closest friends. I didn’t know it at the time, but the normalcy of handshakes and hugs would soon melt away with no promise of ever returning. Or so I thought.
Fast-forward a year later, and we are certainly still in a pandemic but, with one-tenth of the country’s population vaccinated, this March feels more hopeful than the last. Last March was characterized by persistent changes to our everyday lives, forcing us to reevaluate nearly every facet of 21st-century life. Public health needed to be addressed, along with social justice and our relationships with our loved ones; lesson after lesson, ad nauseam. 2020 taught me that another thing needed to be addressed: my relationship with myself.
I’m sure my fellow college students can relate; ours is a story of constant congregation that quickly turned into sorrowful exile. We are social creatures who were yanked from the most social environment we’ve ever experienced and sentenced to solitude. I quickly became too familiar with the walls of my childhood bedroom, wishing I could spend just one more night with my friends for old time’s sake. I had never been in a situation where I could not physically see anyone lest I risk contracting a deadly virus; none of us had any idea how to proceed. I quickly understood that this was uncharted territory for all of us.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) first characterized the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.
As the curious person I am, I wanted to chart that territory. I wanted to immerse myself in the idea of being alone so that I could better understand myself and those around me. Sure, loneliness sounds a little scary, but they say explorers are never lost, right? So I dove in.
I first had to understand where I was and how I was feeling. Then, I asked myself if that was where I wanted to be: the obvious answer was no, “Liz, you’d much rather be at a frat party with your roommates than stuck in this existentialist rut.” So, I had to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. Not surprisingly at all, I found that this desire to bridge the gap was a common one; this experience was a tale as old as time, as Celine Dion would say.
A man born 125 years before coronavirus came about said that happiness is derivative. This man was named Jiddu Krishnamurti, and he argued that happiness is always a by-product of something else. You think you’ll be happy when you get that promotion. You get promoted, but you’re still not fully satisfied. Now, you think you’ll be happy when you get the girl. You’re in a relationship now, and guess what… you’re still not fully satisfied. There is a search for something permanent, within the self and things beyond the self; but happiness is never permanent.
Krishnamurti offered that instead of happiness, we should begin searching for something else: self-knowledge. There is an idea that you must first recognize what is; “you cannot imagine or have belief in something which you are not.” On top of that, you have to be real with yourself about your circumstances. To understand what is, there must be freedom from the fear of what is. This was really, really hard to put into practice considering, you know, everything going on in the world. It seemed hard, but not impossible.
My thought process went something like, “okay, I get the vibe that he’s saying happiness is tricky to pursue, but if I can understand myself, I think there’s some merit and pleasure in that.” So that’s what I tried to do (and I’m still trying). A global pandemic and all its associated isolation is, admittedly, a really convenient time to, if you’re able, parse through your own self-knowledge.
That isn’t to say a global pandemic isn’t tough; we all dearly miss the way things used to be. But those things aren’t reality anymore. Taking a look around my childhood bedroom, I reminded myself to stay grounded in the present because, as cliché as it sounds, the past and the future were either gone or uncertain. I was alone, and that was a fact; I was alone, and that fact didn’t have to be unfortunate. That is where self-knowledge comes in.
Understanding yourself is a lifelong task, the terms of which, I imagine, are always changing as you grow and evolve. But it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, the following is true: everyone’s potential for self-knowledge exists within them. It cannot be explained by some self-help book or school newspaper article, but it is there. And it is worth exploring.